A Household of Minor Things: The Collections of Robert Duncan and Jess

Jess, The Enamord Mage: Translation #6, 1965.

“Jess and Robert Duncan pursued separate artistic paths—the former as a visual artist, the latter as a poet, though each experimented with the other’s chosen medium. Jess, who had a lifelong interest in the play inherent in language, wrote poetry and prose, and Duncan, who was drawn to the open form and movement he perceived in abstract expressionism, painted and drew. Yet neither approached the facility with which the other engaged his own field, and the benefits of these excursions into the other’s territory lay more in the insights brought back than in any contribution made on foreign ground. They collaborated rarely, which may seem surprising given the intensity of their shared worldview and the length of their relationship, some 37 years. But they did have one lasting collaboration: the joint labor of maintaining the household. Despite their different temperaments and commitments to different media (word and image), their worldviews were similar, and what they stood to gain in keeping house together, in addition to intimacy and companionship, was a shared space in which to nourish their shared values. These values included domestic space as a space of belonging that is generative and must be protected, which Jess called indwelling and Duncan termed the household. They valued the formation of self-made ancestries and collections through acts of accumulation and appropriation. They valued meaning that is multiphasic and in flux. They valued an engagement with fantasy, myth, and romance—Duncan called their life together ‘story living.’ … Bookshelves lined almost every room, and several rooms were used as libraries. Their collection contained over 5,000 volumes (as well as 5,300 records) and comprised in-depth holdings in fiction, art history, poetry, literary theory, philosophy, classics, world religion, history, architectural history, biography, fairy tales, science fiction, magic and the occult, Theosophy, drama, psychoanalysis, physics, and biology. Collected authors are too many to name, and ranged from L. Frank Baum to Emily Dickinson, Sigmund Freud, bell hooks, Melanie Klein, Nathaniel Mackey, Plato, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Virginia Woolf. …”
Jess Collins
BOOKFORUM: Very Fine House
Brooklyn Rail: Tara McDowell’s The Householders: Robert Duncan and Jess
The Householders | Oh what a fortress our art makes, and oh what an armoire our love
SF MoMA: Salvage and Recuperation


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