In a series of three poems in prose published in 1974 in a book titled Three Poems, in a form of a poetic evocation John Ashbery describes the state of mind of a man in crisis, or more exactly a man overcoming a crisis. At the same time this literature reminds one of science-fiction and all the three poems sound as a sublime introduction to it. Reading “The New Spirit”, “System” and “The Recital” the readers are moreover under an impression that they see images of the first sequences of a movie, when still unaware of how the plot will unfold they are bound to remember a chance detail which, hopefully, will be explained later on. There is no fulfilment of this sort in Ashbery’s prose. Once read, it merely leaves the reader with an “impression” as nothing is said directly. This reading resembles a steadfast pursuit of meaning, rather than its successful definition:
“Because life is short
We must remember to keep asking it the same question (…)”
It seems plainly obvious, however, that Ashbery’s poems refer to the author’s own mental crisis. They wave with a sinusoidal motion but also have a sweeping momentum that seems at odds with confessional literature. Hence the confusion and misleading paths; the poet accounts for the crisis of his own identity in terms of a world’s crisis. When reminiscing, he does it with the solemnity of an archaeologist. At the same time he pens a paradoxical natural history, advancing scientific theories while fathoming subjective truths. He uses the plural, hence the problems and hopes of a single “I” become arbitrarily universal.
In the convention of this poetry overcoming a breakdown is similar to restructuring a city after a natural disaster. As a fall is defined in scientific terms, the continuation sounds like a prophecy. The poet makes use of dictionaries of economics, physics, statistics, philosophy, and anthropology. Ashbery conducts a séance, trying to breathe a new spirit into the hackneyed words and thoughts. As he writes, “The new morals have altered the original data”.
Faithful to the post-apocalyptic mood of this poetry, we have decided to compose the show using the work of artists who make a creative use of ready-mades. Each in their diverse paths, all of them transform and question the material world as it is, unleashing the potential of its senses. Their work, like Ashbery’s text, suspended between the past and the future, defines the fleeting and mutable present.