Anabases begins (unlike Xenophon’s Anabasis) with a preface, of sorts, written by Morad Montazami. In this brief text (‘Coming Back, Coming Up, Coming About’), the first third of which acts as the blurb for the book, split between the inside front and back cover flaps, Montazami offers a series of suggested strategies for making our way through Anabases, presented as alternatives for what the book is not.
This is not a book, Montazai writes, ‘for reading’ and its ‘lines’ do not ‘roll out continuously’, creating a ‘compendium of knowledge’. It does not ‘follow a logical framework’ nor does it ‘assert a set subject or conclusive postulate’. Instead, Anabases is a book ‘for wandering’, in which its ‘lines…superimpose each other to infinity’ in a ‘web of prescience’. This description of the project made me think about a distinction between the book as an object, printed and bound, proudly brandishing its ISBN, and the book as a world into which we enter, where we can lose ourselves. (I am writing this on the top floor of the Oval side of the Thompson Library at Ohio State – from my desk I can see the sea of book-stacks).
Montazami continues to describe how Anabases ‘unfurls a grid with multiple entries’ and ‘invites us to probe the recesses of a mind in motion’. This mind is not identified, but we can assume from what follows it is the mind of Eric Baudelaire. That said, the French (yes, I should have mentioned earlier, this book is bilingual) for ‘a mind in motion’ is une pensée en mouvement which refers more less to the artistic subject (Baudelaire) than to thought itself. Montazami continues the metaphor by stating that Anabases ‘steeps us in the driving material (la matière motrice) that brings it [the mind or thought in motion] to life (qui l’anime)‘.
I guess that if we really want to see this kind of motivating material, the book produced after the fact may not always be the best source. Looking at Eric Baudelaire’s website, for the entry under ANABASES (chapter 1) we can not only find the installation shots from two versions of the Anabases exhibition in 2009 – at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery in New York and the Galerie Greta Meert in Brussels, but also an ISSUU document that he calls libretto (source documents) – which contains the original version of the section of Anabases that follows the preface, written by Baudelaire, called Chronologies:
Not to get sidetracked by trying to uncover the precursor to our reading of (or wandering through) Anabases, let us return to Montazami’s preface. Next, by way of explaining this process of peering behind the scenes to glimpse the thought-process of Anabases, Montazami offers the following rhetorical tricolon of ways in which this book aspires to what he dubs its ‘ubiquity’:
It reflects the works it exhibits, the documents it discloses and the commentary it generates.
All of this prefatory set-up preempts the introduction of the topic that will, in time, make sense of its emphasis on process, movement and reflection: Anabasis. This word and idea, Montazami continues, is the ‘very real linking thread’ and serves as both an ‘archaeological enigma’ and as an ‘allegorical force’ for the book.
While marking this pivotal space for the ides of Anabasis, Montazami’s preface does not offer any direct explanation of this idea. We first find such explanation in the chapter that follows his preface: Eric Baudelaire’s Chronologies. Here the Greek terms receives a series of definitions, associated with different times, authors and art works. For example, under the entry for 401 to 399 B.C., Baudelaire describes the period of the historical event of the thousands of Greek mercenaries who marched with the Persian Cyrus, but who, on the death of their leader,
begin a journey known as the “anabasis”: an unguided wandering through unknown territories that ends when the Greeks reach the sea, leading them home.
Next, for 391 to 371 B.C., Baudelaire explains that this was the period in which Xenophon wrote the Anabasis, the account of the events described in the previous entry. (For the record, this is not the first time that the name Xenophon has appeared in Anabases, he is there in the blurb and Montazami’s preface). Baudelaire connects the general idea of Anabasis for Xenophon’s text as follows:
“Anabasis” names a movement towards home of men who are lost, outlawed, and out of place…Like the voyage recounted in the Odyssey three centuries earlier, the Anabasis transcends the military memoir form to become a much-referenced literary allegory…The name comes from the Greek verb αναβανϵιν which means at once ‘to embark’ and ‘to return’. For the lineage of authors who have since appropriated the term, anabasis contains two linked yet seemingly opposed literary motifs: a quest for home and the invention of a destiny in the new…
The next two entries from 1924 and 1963 respectively do not offer any descriptive insight into the nature of Anabasis, yet they do reference two manifestations of the Anabasis–theme in the poetry of Saint-John Perse and Paul Celan. (The latter poet – Paul Celan – we recall from Montazami’s preface after mentioning Xenophon and when ‘the story of Anabasis after Anabasis. It is also worth noting here, parenthetically, that the collection of poems from which Baudelaire quotes and for which Anabasis was written is called The No-One Rose). For both of these entries in his Chronologies, Baudelaire quotes the poems directly – part of Perse’s and the whole of Celan’s. The English translation of the Celan poem ends:
Visible, audible thing, the
word growing free:
Then from 1963 Baudelaire jumps to 1999. (Well, in the ‘original’ version there is an entry for 1964 which is well work exploring, but I don’t want us to get sidetracked – you can see for yourself below if you’re interested in following it up).
In 1999 the philosopher Alain Badiou used the Anabasis-theme as a way to understand the 20th Century on the eve of its end:
Anabasis is described as an itinerary into the new which isn’t simply a return because it “invents the path, without knowing whether it is a path home. Anabasis is the free invention of meandering which will have been a return, a return which, prior to the wandering, did not exist as a return.”
This sequence of dates, events and texts is only the first part of Baudelaire’s Chronologies – the next sections are focused on individual works and series that made up the Anabases exhibitions of 2009 (installation views of which are accompanying the present post). I shall return to these entries tomorrow, but for now, let us turn back to Montazami’s preface, armed, as it were, with the valences of the idea of Anabasis gleaned from Baudelaire’s Chronologies. Consider the way that Montazami goes on to describe the volume in a way that builds on the idea of Anabasis:
The main author of this ocean crossing, Eric Baudelaire, is both a collector of vestiges and a sketcher of wandering lines who has surrounded himself with other meticulous voices (Pierre Zaoui, Homay King, Jean-Pierre Rehm), fellow-travellers in this library secret. Readers will be able to enjoy the gradual unfolding of the story of war and politics whose underlying intellectual and poetic adventure this book enables us to recall—that of its repetitions, ramifications and hybridisations: the story of Anabasis after Anabasis (or from Xenophon’s Anabasis to that of Paul Celan by way of Alain Badiou’s), from an ancient narrative to its modern reappropriation.
This marks the end of the text included on the blurb of the book. But it is what happens next that explains why I am devoting a whole week of Minus Plato posts to Anabases:
This is Eric Baudelaire’s elegant reminder: classical art never just mirrored archaic ideas; it rather represented the prospect of a regeneration for humankind, that of new eras and uncharted lands.
In what follows, Montazami offers a set of examples for how the Classical can function as an Anabasis. First, from Baudelaire’s film-making predecessors Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Notes Towards and African Orestes and Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt, then moving to the fundamental example of Freud’s use of Oedipus during the genesis of psychoanalysis. From here Montazami connects the role of the Classicical in these pertinent predecessors for Baudelaire’s project with ancient Greek ideas of return and circularity over what he dubs ‘Christianity’s irreversible time’. Then these Greek ideas are coupled with ‘the Eastern idea of zenith’, for which Montazami relishes the way that the Anabasis is too an encounter between East and West. With reference to the Zoroastrian Mazdism ‘the ancient pre-Islamic Persian religion’, ideas of Nietzsche’s ‘eternal recurrence’ are coupled with ecological disasters ‘in the manner of Anabases’, which all ‘scoff at’ the ‘temporal triad’ of Montazami’s title: Coming back, coming up, coming about. And with a reference to Eric Baudelaire’s ‘aesthetic and political clockwork’, the preface is over. But where has it taken us? As T.S. Eliot writes in his ‘Preface’ to Saint-John Perse’s Anabasis (and it seems that Xenophon would agree judging from his own preface-less Anabasis):
I am by no means convinced that a poem like Anabase requires a preface at all. It is better to read such a poem six times, and dispense with a preface.
Does the preface to Anabases follow the same logic? Or is it perhaps offering a new way of reflecting on the process of reading the book six times? If you stay wandering along with me over the next few days as we re-read Anabases together, we shall see…