Bringing it All Back Home

by on Oct.30, 2010

Why is this album cover so beguiling? I think for its gyre-like qualities–the vortex– occult/Modernist qualities. The golden ring feels like an error AND like a media effect– an accident of light, a glitch or warp of the film or lens?– making us feel the presence of (archaic feeling) non-digital apparatus by which this photo was taken. At the same time, it looks like the iris of an eye. So the eye is somehow the ‘same as’ the glitch, the error, and the media– the archaic media. Here, rather than representing rationality and insight, or even just perception in its various definitions, this eye is excessive to itself. It is an eye that can see itself (rather than a transparent eyeball), an eye which seeps (or leaks) its own gold material onto the image itself.

And the image itself has rat-nest, imperialistic qualities. Like Marlowe, or any armchair imperialist, Bob Dylan has lugged a bunch of knowledge ‘back home’, rendered here in material form. Knowledge is materialized everywhere as books, magazines, sheet music, portraits, furniture, friezes, woman, I guess. The woman has a knowing look. She is not the Intended, despite her black hair, because we are at the end of History, here, everything has been or is going to be shortly consumed. Foreshortened to the point of convexity? Perhaps to be consumed by a conflagration, that is, by the evil eye, which does not see but leaks, stains, marks. Stigmatas. (Eye-stigmata.)
Culture as the possessions of the dead.
Shortly to be (re-)possessed by media the eye.

Et in arcadia, I was (always?already?in the process of being!) possessed by media!

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5 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    It has been argued that photography made the world into art (ie kitsch); what I like about this analysis is that it alters that equation a bit so that it includes the human eye itself, how the eye becomes media.

    Almost every song on this album is a collection of brick-a-brack which seems to attempt for the allegorical/protest song, but which just seems to add to the brick-a-brack, endless songs (I’m thinking mainly of “it’s all right ma, I’m only bleeding” and “Gates of Eden”).


  2. Tyler Flynn Dorholt


    This post immediately makes me think about Berger’s Ways of Seeing. However, I don’t want to run around in that particular muck right now. I will say that the woman’s knowing look has always crusted me. I recall seeing the Dylan exhibit in Seattle where they had a diagram of absolutely everything in this photograph. What is pressing in terms of the occult is the copy of Earth Society as well as the Time magazine with Lyndon Johnson on the cover. What’s disturbing is that I’ve stared at this album cover thousands of times and barely noticed the ring; because of the white borders of these old albums things are deceivingly embalmed.

    Yet as a photograph this ring does feel like an error, yet perhaps the most engaging error in the sense that this was the exact moment Dylan busted both the folk and electric bones—the ring, the electricity shrouding the armchair lounge of the past. He was killing himself a bit at the time, killing the image, and here we have nothing but images, and introspection seems to exude from the forms of these two on the cover by way of images … whispering “I dug in, dig me out!” The convexity is almost an apology for distortion or something, a way of saying “we didn’t let this happen.” The other thing I remember about that exhibit was a write-up about how spontaneous this shot actually was. With the mantle it all seems ancient and arcane but all of these “things” were in Grossman’s house, including his wife who became the cover woman. Looking at the cover it is also easy to forget that there’s a cat; the things that breath are more decorum than the seeming decorum.

    I’m really happy that you brought up this cover Joyelle, as there are many things to dig into. Ultimately, I think that this is one of the greatest album covers ever, that it was aware of itself only in that it was ahead of itself, possessed by media as you mention, maybe even just eaten by media. Yet this was/is Dylan too right?—ahead as not to be eaten, invisible wand in hand, the real possessor. At least it was him in 64. My favorite part about this photograph is the fact that we can look into it and see Dylan’s own album, primely entitled “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” tucked behind the chair. This is such a delicate but tenacious addition to the shot, that there are many sides and here’s another, another. Also the words “shelter” turned vertically and the open mouth of the man on the record over the fireplace.


  3. Johannes

    There’s of course the movie he made at this time – Eat the Document. Which means something like “eat this movie.”


  4. Joyelle McSweeney

    Hey Ethan G, thanks for link! Yes, I can see the album cover as the inside-out version of the painting– in teh painting the eye (the central mirror) seems like one more trinket, also a kind of hole through which the entire painting could leak or drain!!