Doug Bruns

Archive for the ‘Truth’ Category

Friday Moleskine notes

In Life, Literature, Truth, Writing on May 11, 2012 at 6:00 am

I will be on the road, or more properly, in the mountains, for another two weeks, but pulled this Friday collection of notes and quotes together before leaving. Thanks for reading.


Freud wrote that anatomy is destiny.

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“Memory, unaided by even a photograph, lays a claim on us that is so much more exacting for being so perishable.” From the New York Times Book Review (10.6.2003)

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Nathanael West, writing on Americans, from The Day of the Locust (1939):

They were savage and bitter, especially the middle-aged and the old, and had been made so by boredom and disappointment. All their lives they had slaved at some kind of dull, heavy labor, behind desks and counters in the fields and at tedious machines of all sorts, saving their pennies and dreaming of the leisure that would be theres…. Where else would they go but California, the land of sunshine and oranges?… They get tired of oranges…. They watch the waves come in at Venice. There wasn’t any ocean where most of them came from, but after you’ve seen one wave, you’ve seen them all…. [Newspapers and movies] fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars…. The sun is a joke. Oranges can’t titillate their jaded palates…. They have been cheated and betrayed. They have slaved and saved of nothing.

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Life is the opportunity for art. Be a master wherever you are. Expose the truth wherever you go.

The nature of the thing itself.

In Creativity, Curiosity, Happiness, Photography, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas, Truth, Wisdom on June 13, 2011 at 5:27 pm

I went to Maryland over the weekend for the marriage of a dear friend of the family. It was a wonderful opportunity to renew old friendships, catch up with people I care about and have a general good time. Late in the evening Duer sat down next to me. The last time I saw him was at my son’s wedding, over four years ago. Duer is a serious amateur photographer. Although the weekend’s bride and groom had hired a wedding photographer, Duer, the step-dad of the groom, was photographing as well, working with vigor and enthusiasm. By the time he sat down with me, the evening was well on and the Johnny Walker wisdom was running high, as Leonard Cohen says.

I had my trusty little Leica wrapped around my wrist, my camera bling of choice. I’d been, throughout the evening, hunting for intimate shots, hoping I might make a photograph that the hired-gun missed with his shoulder-breaking hardware. The last time Duer saw me, four years ago, I was holding the same camera, working in the same fashion. “Man,” he said, “you and your Lieca. It’s film, right?” I nodded. “Black and white, I suppose,” he said above the din. I nodded again, smiling. “Man, you have a passion. I admire that, a real passion.”

There’s passion, then there’s passion. There was an article in yesterday’s New York Times, Sports Section, called The Mets’ Bat Whisperer. Accompanying the piece is a picture of Carlos Beltran holding a bat to his ear. The caption reads: “When Mets’ Carlos Beltran receives a new box of bats, he likes to listen to them as he gently taps them. He divides them into game bats and batting-practice bats based on the pitch.” It is an understatement to say that Carlos Beltran has passion.

Steve Ballmer of Microsoft recently told the graduating class of the University of Southern California that passion is “the thing that you find in your life that you can care about, that you can cling to, that you can invest yourself in, heart, body and soul.” Ballmer was echoing Joseph Campbell and his famous admonition to “follow your passion.” But I fear Campbell’s sage advice has sadly lost some of its punch. Sometimes simple truths wear out in the usage. Ironically, they can get lost in the shuffle of things. But not always, and not for everybody. I interviewed a canoe maker a couple of years ago, Rollin Thurlow. He makes canoes by hand up in northern Maine. Rollin has passion, like Beltran has passion. Nothing is lost in the shuffle for these types of people. I aspire to that.

That to me feels like the core of it all; that passion is the pursuit of, as well as the practice of a discipline. That is what Duer was suggesting, I think. My camera is a tool, as the bat is to Beltran. I know it well and as a good tool will do, it responds to my need without complaint or effort on my part. Part of a passion, I sense, is the seamless nature it affords one–a pursuit without hinderance. Words for the writer, oils for the painter, ideas for the scientist and so on. Satisfyingly, I recognize in the pursuit of such efficient elegance as passion affords, the nature of the thing itself.

Is it just me?

In Music, Photography, Truth on March 26, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Does not all photography seem derivative? I read recently (in the New Yorker, March 8, 2010) of Espranza Spaulding, a jazz singer, bass player. The article, long and New Yorker-typical deep, was compelling, as all things fresh and original are wont to be, and I listened, as a result, to the podcast with the author. I was struck by the freshness, the sui genius, of Spaulding, like Athena, born from the forehead of Zeus, perfect and in full-form.  Music affords the disciple such depth, of which I an envious. Keys. instruments. Style, Genre and so on. That is a big, huge, topic. Suffice it to say…. A person can swim in that ocean.

What do photographers have?

But I am comparing apples and oranges. Music is the most abstract of all the arts. Is it not said that all the arts aspire to the status of music? (Or is that poetry?) Photography is so many measures removed from the pure abstract. Think about it. We take a three-dimensional reality and render it two-dimensional.  (I hesitate to put quotation marks around that word, reality. That is a philosophical topic saved for another essay.) If we are a black and white photographer, we take the abstract one step further by rendering it thus, from color, what the eye recognizes, to something we don’t see naturally. But still it is a facsimile of what we recognize. That is what I mean by derivative. We cannot escape, cannot break free of,  the bonds which preceded us, simply because of the medium in which we work.

So, this all sounding so high and (less-than) mighty, this path we take–pursuit of truth and beauty, specifically. Truth we should be able to capture, no? Beauty gets mixed up and is relative. But cannot the photographer render truth? (Small t or big T–small, yes, we all agree?.) I will not try to wrestle that word to the ground. Truth. Let’s just concede that T/truth is something we recognize.  (Again: I know it when I see it.) Maybe even something we can aspire to.

Phase of Authenticity

In Philosophy, Photography, The Examined Life, Truth on March 1, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Is it just me, or do other people feel less authentic than they used to? It’s probably just me. I’m not even sure what I mean when I say authentic, but I know it when I feel it. (Kind of like Supreme Court Justice Stewart in 1964, writing about hard-core porn: “I shall not today attempt further to define…[b]ut I know it when I see it.”) I can’t define it, but I know it when I feel it.

But I am famous, in family circles, that is, of going through phases*. Going through a phase is something I have done all my life in an effort to avoid the static. Really, who wants to be static. Static is roadkill.

I was at dinner last week, a progressive dinner for The Telling Room here in Portland. I had my photographer’s bling around my neck. That would be my Leica MP with a short stubby sexy 28mm lens. (Yes, I am a camera geek/dork…) And the gentleman next to me, of all things, was a pin-hole camera hobbyist. We started talking photographer’s talk, film and f-stops and all that stuff, when someone across the table sort of demeaned the craft, specifically the film-photography craft in the day and age of digital. I said that I was in a life-phase going somewhat analogue, as best I could. Shooting film was a start. Are you, she asked, smiling bedevilingly, ready to stand in a bank queue at 6pm on a Friday night? (Well, for starters, I don’t get a paycheck on Fridays, but I sensed where she was coming from.) Do you remember, she continued, the days before ATMs and computer banking, when the banks stayed open late on Fridays so you could deposit your paycheck? Yes, I lied. I remembered. That was analogue, she said. Touché. Okay, Uncle. I give up. Analogue does not equal authentic. But is it closer? Is listening to vinyl more authentic than listening to my iPod. That’s silly. But…

I sense that the further I get from my origin the less precisely I feel I am living. (A friend, Vernon Hines, once proclaimed, We can never escape our biography.) I’m not sure I can explain that in a manner that warrants serious consideration. It is, after all, an intensely personal comment. But of this I can be sure: There are ways to think about living that are more genuine than other ways and I want to experience them. Again, intensely personal. In general, for starters, it is not about stuff. Despite my bling, stuff turns on you, and ends up owning you before you know it. Aspiring to stuff is aspiring to bondage. Believe me, I know. (“Possessions are a way of turning money into problems,” Brian Eno.) Stuff is not authentic. Style is. (But not the way you think.) Stay tuned.


*Phases: “Phase of Understanding” followed by “Phase of Existence (cogito ergo sum backward)” followed by “Phase of Being Present (my Zen phase)” followed by  current “Phase of Authenticity”


In Philosophy, Religion, The Examined Life, Thinkers, Truth on February 7, 2010 at 5:51 pm

“Ye shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

“I have never believed in the power of truth in itself.”

Quote number one, a first-century desert prophet. Number two, a twentieth-century French philosopher. Both quotes were directed to a people subjugated, living in an occupied country, itching for insurrection. (The second quote was written in an essay to a “German Friend” in July 1943. To put it in context, Camus continued: “But it is at least worth knowing that when expressed forcefully truth wins out over falsehood.”)

But what of truth? Or is that Truth? As a philosopher professor drilled into us, Define your terms. What is t/Truth? Socrates held truth a thing to be pursued, not discovered. I like that idea. It takes it off the mount and puts it in the streets. But then he was convicted of “corrupting the youth” and sentenced to death. (My, how we protect our children.) Will the pursuit of truth get a person killed? Some hold (those without all the suffocating theological tendrils, in particular) that the desert prophet died in pursuit of Socratic motivation, the pursuit of truth. But I think, more likely, he was too close to preaching insurrection. It was politics; but another forty years would pass before it would come to pass: the insurrection. That lead only to the diaspora, not freedom.

But knowing the Truth and being free on account of that knowledge is a very inviting prospect to a people living in bondage. Not to go too far astray, the juxtaposition of these two ideas I find elegant in their opposition. One, knowledge of t/Truth as salvation. The other t/Truth as impotence without force. I look to history for reconciliation. How else would one possibly proceed?