The Tibetan Stroboscope
by d.a. levy

The Tibetan Stroboscope was one of levy's most important works, exploring his abilities as a master of visual poetry to the fullest extent in a book of this size, and, at the same time, showing how much he could do to make a relatively inexpensive tabloid a form of book art comparable to any other. Apparently the largest edition of levy's published work, this book was produced in 1968, the hectic last year of his life.

The first section gives a survey of the entire book in reduced size, not only with multiple pages shown at a time, but each opening of the book shown as a two page unit. The individual pages in the second section appear in larger size than those in the survey section. As a possible extra to making the details legible, this continues the process of breaking down and recreating that form the basis of the book, although without levy's artistry.

The book was printed on newsprint and I doubt that there are copies around that haven't yellowed with time. It would be easy to reproduce them in black and white, as Ingrid Swanberg has done, and that has some advantages. But since the original paper fed into the press was off-white, I have scanned them in color. For levy, the interaction of paper and ink was essential, and the sharp clarity of jet black ink on sparkling white paper was not part of the aesthetic of this book or of his other outlaw publications, which insisted on their immediacy, their inexpensiveness, their urgency, and their debts to popular print culture. To use Ezra Pound's definition of poetry, levy was reporting "news that stays news," including sacred art several thousand years old as much as collages taken out of contemporary print sources ranging from newspapers to magazines to handbills and other ephemera. I'll probably scan these over and see if I can get the color closer to what I remember of the newsprint I first saw in 1968, but for now this somewhat darker coloration will have to do.

On this and several other later books, levy worked extremely fast, putting together some of the collage at the print shop. For some people this may make the book look sloppy, but there's nothing sloppy about it: levy's spontaneity and deliberate avoidance of neat layouts were informed by more careful work done previously, and by a complete sureness of craft and informed trust in intuition. At this stage, anything else would have worked against the constant invention which levy worked into every page, and often not just once per page, but in multiple ways in each page.

In the late work, levy had integrated a strong sense of the necessity and interdependence of polarities on many levels. Most important perhaps is the absolute mutual dependence of destruction and creation. Throughout the book, he constantly works out new strategies to destroy or subvert or negate a text, from such simple devices as mirroring text to blotting it out. Even in the blotted passages, however, there is great variety. On the graphic level, the blotted texts range from heavy, dense, uneven lines with clear edges to lines or individual letters with many thin, spidery strands moving out from them. As you gain more familiarity with these pages, it becomes questionable whether the strands are thin drains off the image or forms of radiance. Some texts can be deciphered, and should be deciphered even though it takes some time to do so. Others work as support mechanisms: that is, they cover parts of a text as a means of creating a new one or bringing out significance in the old one that the original writer of publisher would not have understood. This emphasizes clearly legible passages, often brief phrases or mirrored or lightly typed or half erased lines that gain force by their isolation. Tom Phillips and Doris Cross discovered similar blocking techniques independently at about the same time, and each used them in radically different ways. I wouldn't want to say that any was better than the others, but levy was more intense and more urgent in his use of these techniques.

The images, too, abound in contradictions, paradoxes, opposition, and the kinds of flipping polarities that at times attract and repel each other. Thus a photo of a devotional sculpture occupies the same forcefield as a clip from a pornographic magazine; passages from the Karlgren or Wade-Giles Chinese dictionary form a margin for gossip; coarse, runny erasures balance against delicate etchings, images of propriety and elitism face clumsy cartoons; a south Vietnamese soldier in western uniform sits in something like lotus position at a time when monks were burning themselves alive to protest the infiltration of western commercialism in their ancient land, whose Buddhism predates the northern variety more familiar to people in the west.

On the simplest level, this is levy's recension of the Buddha's "Fire Sermon," perhaps the most eloquent statement of the ephemerality of the material world. On another level, it makes a wheel of Tantric statements of boundless energy and possibility.

levy's type of mysticism isn't for everyone; but his expression of it should be an essential part of everyone's understanding of what visual poetry and book art has been and can still be.

- Karl Young




Individual Pages:










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This is a cooperative production of Kaldron
and Light and Dust Mobile Anthology of Poetry.