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Wolgamot
May 23, 2011 5:40 AM   Subscribe

"It's harder than you think to write a sentence that doesn't say anything." The quest to find and understand the author of In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women. "Includes full-length album (by Robert Ashley) and PDF of Wolgamot's magnum opus." (Via)
posted by zarq (28 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wolgamot was certainly never satisfied with any of his books. He told Ashley that in In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women there were two names he would like to change: Pissarro and Thespis-apparently because he was bothered by the first syllable of one and the second syllable of the other.

And he apparently had some regrets about piss.
posted by three blind mice at 5:47 AM on May 23, 2011


"It's harder than you think to write a sentence that doesn't say anything."

JERRY COULD DO IT. GEORGE COULD DO IT. ELAINE COULD DO IT. KRAMER PROBABLY DOES IT ALL THE TIME.
posted by Smart Dalek at 5:57 AM on May 23, 2011


I read the articles and I feel like I feel when everybody's laughing at a joke I don't understand.
posted by meadowlark lime at 6:13 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay, I'm just going to assume this is an art piece written in the 1970s and accompanied by two truly brilliant works of fiction that invent a mysterious identity for its author.
posted by shii at 6:18 AM on May 23, 2011


Relevant(?): Tortoise - In Sarah, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Women and Men from TNT (1998)
posted by blue t-shirt at 6:20 AM on May 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, I guess I'm wrong: John B. Wolgamot, born 18 Mar 1902, died Apr 1989, SSN 066-26-7319.
posted by shii at 6:20 AM on May 23, 2011


I love this. Thank you.
posted by neroli at 6:33 AM on May 23, 2011


The Ashley piece is really remarkable.
posted by kenko at 6:35 AM on May 23, 2011


I heard the Ashley piece on Bryce's WFMU show last Friday and was working on a FPP when suddenly here it is!

Wolgamot described the construction of the page that begins with George Meredith and that contains the names Paul Gauguin, Margaret Kennedy, Oland Russell, Harley Granville-Barker, Pieter Breughel, Benedetto Croce and William Somerset Maugham (this is the 60th page of the text) as follows—with many omissions, because I could not keep up: “Somerset has both summer and set as in sun-set, and Maugham sounds like the name of a South Pacific Island, and Maugham wrote a biography of Gauguin, which name has both ‘go’ and ‘again’ in it, and Oland could be ‘Oh, land,’ a sailor’s cry, and Granville sounds French for a big city, which Gauguin left to go to the South Pacific . . . etceteras.” I couldn’t keep track of how the other names worked.

I don't think Wolgamot was crazy, but his brain certainly worked differently.
posted by theodolite at 6:43 AM on May 23, 2011


"Ashley had done a formal analysis of the book, in an elaborate chart, showing that the book is in four movements-there was no sign of this, no markings-four movements of equal length. I was not entirely convinced. But the first thing Wolgamot said was, "You realize, this is in four movements." And Ashley immediately brought out his chart, which Wolgamot wouldn't look at."

This is wonderfully written.
posted by piato at 6:52 AM on May 23, 2011


I've only read a few paragraphs of the Waldrop piece and will have to return to it when I can afford the distraction.

All these years, I had thought that Tortoise had assembled that track title the same way tracks themselves seem sometimes to be put together: By stringing together whatever sounds seemed to work at the moment. Instead, it's a mostly-intact title of a totally different written piece apparently composed in a literary method parallel to Tortoise's ensemble composition method.

I don't really know what to think about that. But I'm fascinated.
posted by ardgedee at 6:58 AM on May 23, 2011


This is where I live and wonder. Thanks for the post.
posted by Hobgoblin at 8:14 AM on May 23, 2011


In his very truly great manners of Hannah Montana very heroically Billy Ray Cyrus as Robby Ray Stewart and Lasso Larry Larsen had very sincerely come amongst his very really grand men and women to Oswald Granger, Travis Brody, Oliver Oken, Paolo Kaire, Donald Griswald, Danny Kennedy, Jesse Henecke, Edmund Collins and Captain Jack Parsons very titanically.

Bleep bloop. Splurg.

My favorite Tortoise.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:38 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I read the articles and I feel like I feel when everybody's laughing at a joke I don't understand.

Not really, but it probably takes some exposure to modern and post-modern art to get what's going on.

The big change between classical art and modern was IMHO that content became less important and style, more. John Cage infected us with the germ that actually trying to make beautiful or aesthetic art was trying too hard. Artists started to understand that the beauty in wood grain was at least as beautiful as anything you could make, and started staying out of the way of the real world more.

These ideas have had a lot of consequences. Outsider art has continued popularity. Art based on found sources that weren't art has also had a lasting stay. Formalist, algorithmic, ritualized, minimalist, repetitive are all important adjectives.

The great pieces of work from this period are unpredictable but coherent, mysterious, unique and inexplicable, perhaps exemplified by the Large Glass.

The Wolgamot piece has all of these and more. It really is delightful because it's so peculiar, entirely sui generis, and yet strangely formal and academic for someone who has no formal or academic training.

"You can't make this stuff up."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:51 AM on May 23, 2011


Artists started to understand that the beauty in wood grain was at least as beautiful as anything you could make, and started staying out of the way of the real world more.

That sounds so condescending. As if I need an artist to tell me wood grain is beautiful. I need an artist to make beautiful stuff that I can't find for myself in the natural world.
posted by straight at 8:59 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


That sounds so condescending. As if I need an artist to tell me wood grain is beautiful. I need an artist to make beautiful stuff that I can't find for myself in the natural world.

Is a naturalist photographer making something beautiful, or illustrating a point of perspective regarding an 'outside' beauty? Is the art beautiful, or the vision it provides? That's where the finer points of this distinction lie.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:01 AM on May 23, 2011


The name "Wolgamot" is obviously German, and the opening letter is pronounced like "V", and the more this is read and listened to and chanted the closer He will come to taking corporeal form and fighting that little bastard who survived his attack the last time. I suspect he'll actually manifest fully sometime around July 15 of this year. And then the final battle will happen.
posted by hippybear at 9:03 AM on May 23, 2011


"You can't make this stuff up."

You can, and he did.

"It's harder than you think to write a sentence that doesn't say anything."

It's not, and he did.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:05 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Psh, it isn't that difficult to write meaningless sentances; merely pay a chinese guy with only half a grasp on the english language 5 bucks to translate some deep and meaningful chinese phrase to english.

For example (from today in Shuhe Old Town UNESCO world heritage site. One would think the world's second largest economy would make some effort to show off its world heritage site with at least something resembling proper grammar rather than a shoddy google translate result. But alas! I degress):

Three Wells Synopses (sic)

"The Water is good for the myriad things but do not struggle". The water also is the scarce resourches which easist to pollute. The pastoral stage, Naxi Ancients :occupies by the water plant". regards the water for the life fountainhoead; Plough settles down the time, they pilot into village, as soon as divides into three, Enjoy comfortably is convenient near the water live; To the cities time, has created "Three Wells" culture. Divides into three ponds well water a water seepage, first makes the tap water, The second does washes the vegetable water; And the third does washes the water, water three uses, did not struggle does not snatch, has manifested the Naxi nationality awe nature, treasured the environment the fine tradition.


Obviously I'm being flippant, and, in some readings—dramatic poetry perchance?—this garbled soup comes out meaningful as any pseudo-intellectual art rock lyrics. Or perhaps I just need to share this hilarious bit of text with the world.

(Seriously people, read that passage again in a dramatic tone or as lyrics to an indie-pop song. Read it aloud. I can't finish without giggling at least a little.)
posted by aidanwhiteley at 9:19 AM on May 23, 2011


> "You can't make this stuff up."

> You can, and he did.

Unless you have evidence to the contrary, is seems that this is not a made-up story, this is true.


> That sounds so condescending.

Condescending, to want to stay out of the way? I don't see it.


> As if I need an artist to tell me wood grain is beautiful.

My experience is that most people don't notice most details around them, frankly, but that's not what I was talking about. It's rather that artists got sick of the bombasticism of the idea of "the creator" and realized there were, say, other models for The Composer than The Great Maestro Beethoven Who Hath Arranged Each Note Just So.


> I need an artist to make beautiful stuff that I can't find for myself in the natural world.

The artist might well not care that you need her (she's probably still angry after that "condescending" crack anyway) - she might have other fish to fry entirely than making beautiful stuff.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:40 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


The best, best, best part of the whole thing is the fact that (IIRC, I read this a while ago) Wolgamot was working on a new edition—but the text was going to be the same, just as it had been in all the previous editions!
posted by kenko at 9:49 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


None of the examples that have been offered here are in fact meaningless in the same way that the text in the example is "meaningless". Not that I think it's meaningless, but I think that the original text has a much harder-to-clarify structure than any examples given here.

Let's look at aldanwhitely's text - the translation. If someone hands it to me, while I might have trouble understanding it, I certainly can understand what it is and why it exists - it's someone's bad translation of a text describing a cultural area.

mrgrimm's example is even more meaningful as it's a parody or derivative of the original piece! Note the repeated usage of names of celebrities, the same word usage and sentence structure.

The point is also that it's not just ONE "meaningless" text, it's a progressive series of texts which clearly have some underlying structure that you won't be able to determine because there just isn't enough information (though I was very impressed that Ashley had managed to guess a lot of that structure on his own!)

If you found the work on the subway with no documentatation, you'd be baffled. I'd finally assume that it was either art, or madness. But which? Even the accompanying article, you note, does not make this clear...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:51 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


But of course, I was, as stated, mostly being flippant. Text can and does mean something despite its best efforts on the contrary; a text's intended lack meaning itself speaks volumes (and can say much more depending upon who says it to whom, where etc—woo/curse you post-modernism.) Taking this perspective further, even the manner in which the text is displayed speaks volumes, if you want to start thinking about it as graphical text rather than mere verbal syntax. See: advertising.
posted by aidanwhiteley at 10:25 AM on May 23, 2011


Flagged as Titanic.
posted by benzenedream at 10:29 AM on May 23, 2011


This is nicely weird. The music piece resonates with me much more strongly than the actual text, though. It pierces the problem my attention span has with the written version.
posted by neuromodulator at 10:59 AM on May 23, 2011


> "You can't make this stuff up."

> You can, and he did.

Unless you have evidence to the contrary, is seems that this is not a made-up story, this is true.


I was referring to Wolgamot. I have no reason to disbelieve the stories of Waldrop and Ashley.

I wrote poorly. I actually like the poem, but the story not as much.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:46 AM on May 23, 2011


Oh, sorry! Yes, I was meaning the back-story that was unmakeableable...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:54 PM on May 23, 2011


Art is madness that you like.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:14 PM on May 23, 2011


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