The Red Wagon

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by RJ Hoffman

Just as Heidegger’s imagination could conceive the experience of a peasant when looking at Van Gogh’s painting of a pair of shoes, most anyone who writes can tell a story from a picture. I was watching a performance of John Cage’s 4 33 the other day and realized there wasn’t much difference between looking at old objects in a barn yard or watching a man act the part of playing a piano while not fingering any notes when it comes to the mind conceiving its art. An actor watching a stopwatch doesn’t inspire me to concoct a guitar sequences of musical notes (I don’t play piano), but inspires absurd fictional situations.

As for what caused me to respond by drawing this picture, it was my eyes framing the wagon as I was walking past it. I stopped and looked at it a minute, then wondered how the old milk can would fit in. I liked the storm shelter doors behind the wagon, started to see color patterns and objects, added them and subtracted them in my imagination and took some photos. It’s all Prismacolors and I cannot begin to calculate the time it took me. Many baseball games.


  1. Would you say that, what you explain as “imagining” one thing as another, is essentially simile or metaphor, any form of figurative language, metonym or synechdoche too?
    i find either a poor use, or outright avoidance of such devices in a lot of poetry i read. Do you think it important? Do you try to use it?

      1. Do you think i am attacking you? i am not, you have the wrong end of the stick, i am trying to have a dialogue. If you are threatened by the devices that as a poet you have at your disposal but choose not to use, that isn’t my problem. No need to be in a huff over a few questions.

      2. It’s like this, chief. The post is a simple aside. If I wanted to have a philosophical discussion I would post something that invited it. You won’t let me have the last word on my own damn post and that is what is irritating. If you want to have this sort of discussion write an essay expounding your position and invite the dialogue.

      3. i don’t mind, y’know, i don’t comment on people’s blogs unless it compels me with something the blogger says, i like your art & i thought what you said was interesting. i certainly didn’t mean any criticize in the trollish fashion, but in the real-critic fashion. Thanks for the apology, it takes a big person to do that, it is appreciated.

      4. I do appreciate your input and engaging me. Again, I am sorry. I can be temperamental. If I didn’t have so many things on my mind I would’ve recognized your intentions better. Perhaps it is something we can discuss in the future. It isn’t every day someone wants to discourse objectively and I know that is all you were trying to do.

      5. Let’s do it. Now we understand each other. No more apologies required, we can move forward to discussing things. My eyes will be peeled for future opportunities.

    1. Ok. I think I can finally answer your initial inquiry now that I have my environment settled down and the XFiles in the tape player.

      With my art I am sort of thinking the same as you regarding the limitations of device. At least in my case. I have always been a symbolist of sorts, using signs to point towards some ambiguous “thing” that can be taken a number of different ways, knowing that the person responding is going to interpret with their own life experiences. I try to use universals, or signifiers of universals, or try to group predicates to make a unique symbol or conceptual thing. Sort of drop the responder into an environment they can imagine themselves in.

      So I am guilty of oversimplifying symbol at times in order to make a conceptual image or concept spring to life in the person reading the poem or viewing an image. I do limit the capability of a work I do, but it is more to accommodate my temperament. I don’t like poems that are longer than a few stanzas generally because my attention span likes to move quickly. I am visual and do very poorly remembering formulas. Luckily, I didn’t have to take much math or chemistry to get a B.A. in the Humanities. I have to study by reading a number of texts on the same subject because my memory just doesn’t work real well with formal analysis. I just have always liked to tell stories and imagine what it was like to be other animate objects. So myth and symbol always attracted me because I could look at iconography and be moved by it. This being moved for me means my linguistic mind wanting to understand something. What does it take to recreate a moment, or to create a scenario that would make someone feel emotion and senses of being human.

      So I don’t mean to point towards a synonymous reaction necessarily from someone reacting to a poem, story, image, or a song. I mean to speak to that preknowledge. The alphabet of universal language we all seem to have inherent within us. Heidegger’s language I can appropriate in some ways, and Sartre’s, but cannot say I am expounding on any philosopher. I am a poet who is just curious about what they all have to say.

      I began writing poetry when I was 16 and influenced by Rimbaud and Jim Morrison. So many family and friends around me were dying and it sort of set an existential course for me. I started reading Nietzsche and suddenly the possibilities for conceptual symbol seemed endless. I play guitar so the lyric form always lent itself. I liked the blank verse of Shakespeare, but not Whitman that much because his poems were too long. But I do like how he builds his emotional power with each line.

      I am influenced by Studs Terkel’s interviews with people from various walks of life, RD Laing’s work with mental illness and how it is perceived, and evolutionary linguistics which points to the inherent human adaptability to language. I might take a subject having a dream and present the arrangement with the character in their environment and contrast a Jungian symbology with an existential ideas of self-for-itself and the self-for-others.

      I thought I would share that with you. I try from time to time to write an essay on my evolution as an artist. But I kind of resist taking a firm stance on many things. And my contribution to human culture seems more suited towards producing the art itself rather than expounding too much. I rely on plenty of excellent scholars with an engaging writing style to keep my mind engaged in the thinking I use to try to produce something others will react to.

      1. It might be argued that we can’t really escape symbols, but an intended use of them can grant us some useful results in our looking at our selves & trying to communicate something about our humanity.
        When i spoke of figurative, this was part of what i was talking about. However, i wished to point out the technique as a method for heightening the sense, where you can increase meaning by two seemingly unrelated the things & relating them through something else. An example may be, say, you see a pigeon attacked by a buzzard, the buzzard always goes for the chest, you scare the buzzard & it leaves its prey. Up close you see the chest opened up & a line appears “chest like a purse turned inside out.” Now this creates layered meaning, because the meat of the pigeon is a sort of corporeal wealth for the buzzard, the image of the action of evisceration is also there. The reader is left to imagine more, to make associations, as we are left to do with symbols.

        i believe in symbols. i have kept a dream journal for many years & have come to realize the symbol forming usefulness of the unconscious to alter the trajectory of mood. i have had many times where i didn’t know what to do, or couldn’t stop feeling bad, then i have a clear dream, with a clear meaning & my whole mood is changed & i rise out my dilemma. It only takes some focus on your dreams & they really deliver. i don’t believe any hocus pocus, i believe in the mind’s ability. The word ‘believe’ is a little awkward, but for wont of another.

        Just a thought, perhaps you don’t need to write an essay on your evolution as an artist, but just on some aspect of it. i think transparency can be helpful & often very interesting. Quite a few writer are doing it of late, George Saunders & Will Self being 2 big names who are saying a lot about their process & the meaning behind their work & it really illuminating, earnest stuff.
        Can’t knock you for a reliance on good thinkers, but maybe give the essay form a go, it can be quite eye opening to find time to make connections between thinkers, your process & you product, or just on themes that influence you.

        Thanks for responding in detail, some interesting stuff.

      2. Good ideas. I like the idea of explaining a bit of the process. I like to read when others do that. I have been thinking along those lines. I might start adding a little narrative to my posts and over time it will evolve more. I like the metanarrative of John Barth, and have several stories where I am working on that too.

      3. Seems you are well read enough to explore the essay. I found once i’d realized that by being indirect & treating certain themes that interested me, i was by equivocation saying a lot about process, even my own.
        There is ample opportunity for being universal, direct & indirect, all rolled into explorations of yourself through others. i am no essayist, just what i’ve discovered in the time i’ve been giving it some thought & action.

  2. No. It is a post about how I came to compose a picture and how it is story telling. Yes, I am presenting a technique and saying I am using it. But it isn’t an exposition on technique. You seem like an intelligent enough person to understand that. You also seem intelligent enough to recognize when the situation calls for engaging the way you desire. If I wanted to engage you in philosophical discussion I would’ve done so. I am 54 yrs old. Been doing things the way I do them for a long time. Some things just don’t need to be over analysed. It is a simple post of a picture and how I have come to do it. It isn’t a writer’s workshop or class discussion on literary technique.

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