A Fine Swine Time

Conceit is more than aggrandized ego; it is also a figure of speech, extended metaphor.

Take for instance these concluding lines to "Please Can I Have a Man"

Who, when I come trotting in from the bathroom
like a squealing freshly-scrubbed piglet
that likes nothing better than a binge
of being affectionate and undisciplined and uncomplicated
opens his arms like a trough for me to dive into.
Selima Hill. Collected in New British Poetry edited by Don Patterson and Charles Simic.

The oinkable moment is memorable.

And so for day 1165
20.02.2010

Glass Bead Game - American Style

Ivanhoe

IVANHOE is a pedagogical environment for interpreting textual and other cultural materials. It is designed to foster critical awareness of the methods and perspectives through which we understand and study humanities documents. An online collaborative playspace, IVANHOE exposes the indeterminacy of humanities texts to role-play and performative intervention by students at all levels.
The game took on a certain allure when a posting to Humanist revealed some new possibilities for intellectual recreation ... This excerpt below from the description posted to Humanist reminds me of the Glass Bead Game, especially since in its latest version the Ivanhoe Game can incorporate multimedia.
The Ivanhoe Game can be played on any type of cultural object or topic. In Ivanhoe, players assume roles and generate criticism by pretending to be characters or voices relevant to their topic and making moves from those perspectives. We think of these moves as interventions — a text or work is not stable but, rather, dynamic and ever subject to interpretation by its readers. Furthermore, these interventions are reflective and deliberate: they are "self-conscious acts of interpretation," as Scott [Bailey] so concisely and perfectly puts it. Ivanhoe thus provides a way of delving into a subject while also maintaining a firm focus on the players themselves.
From a posting by Stephanie Kingsley to Humanist Discussion Group Vol. 27, No. 1009.

I was reminded of a passage in a book about games. The passage in question was about open games and the description nicely fits the activity of generating interpretations while role-playing.
[p. 135]
[Speaker="Grasshopper"]
Precisely, Skepticus. I would define an open game generically as a system of reciprocally enabling moves whose purpose is the continued operation of the system. Then as you suggest, various species can be found within the larger class. Open athletic games, perhaps, would make up one such species, since all of the moves in such games would be bodily moves. Games of make-believe, then would make up another species, for in them all the moves would be dramatic performances. Heurschrecke thus correctly specified a game of make-believe as being 'a reciprocating system of role-performance maximization.'
From Bernard Suits The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia (Toronto: Univeristy of Toronto Press, 1978).

I remember a grade-school reader called Magic and Make-Believe. The Osborne Collection at the Toronto Public Library has a copy. I might just skip on down and see the copy there which is a gift donated by Myrna Levy.

And so for day 1164
19.02.2010

Cantos de Huexotzingo

On the street a page torn from a book and on one side this poem, on the other a map. It was the poem that made me keep the piece of paper and bring it home for further study.

Must I depart like this?
Like the flowers that perished?
Will nothing remain in my name?
Will nothing of my fame on earth persist?

At least flowers, at least songs!
from the Cantos de Huexotzingo which my searching has led me to the knowledge that the English translates lines in Spanish inscribed somewhere in the Mexican Museum of Anthropology and History. The quotation that caught my eye and fancy has on the obverse a map of "Mesoa Merica which appears below "Arid Merica" —— one hint that I was dealing with a guidebook was the indication of "Room 2".



I like how the white space allows the poem to breathe, almost like an exhaling, a fading.


And so for day 1163
18.02.2010

The Surrender of Losing Count

The page numbering stops at 50 in Betsy Warland's open is broken but the counting doesn't. The table of contents gives the notes section to be at page 55 and if one counts there is indeed between poem and notes (including a leaf blank on both sides) the requisite number of pages. The counting also occurs in the numbered sections of the title poem. XVI is on page 50. And XVII and XVIII follow on unnumbered pages.

This textual condition is productive of meaning. I take as my key the two lines that open VI

bodies joined north and south
we are each other's entrance
Those missing page numbers are entrances. They entrance. They make one give oneself over to the promise of an overcoming. It is not by accident that the page numbers disappear on a page where the poem invokes nirvana. A carnal nirvana.

The astute reader will observe that page numbers drop out earlier (take 25 and 26 for instance). A quirk of typography. So much for ascribing any special meaning. Or doing so in an easy fashion without a lot of hard work and rereading word by word. And lots of thinking about the process of progressing through a body of work and whether the infolding that happens on rereading can occur by other means.

The opening poem "induction" quotes from the last suite "open is broken" and the Roman numerals that seem at first to punctuate the text at random point to the passages that "induction" quotes from "open is broken". I used the term point rather than mark for there is no word to announce the quotation's source just a Roman numeral at the end of a stretch. Of course it could be the case that "open is broken" is quoting from "induction" — such textual reciprocity is to be expected in a lesbian feminist text. Watch as Warland works her wickedly witty magic on page 13
tonguetext
    "kissing vulva lips
     tongues torque way into vortext
     leave syllables behind

     sound we are sound
     original vocabulary
     language: 'lingua, tongue'"
Then set off on the next line justified with the end of the quotation is (VI) which is the passage in 'open is broken" where it reappears but not as quotation.

One could read Warland's project as losing the quotation marks or the scare quotes. There is a liberationist agenda at work. Something is to be abandoned.

The opening prose piece "untying the tongue" struggles with reclaiming as an unlearning:
the word is the act. when i abandon a word i relinquish the experience it calls up. yet, how can i use the word "intercourse" as a lesbian? and what do i say as a feminist, when in my deepest erotic moments words like "surrender" pulse in my head? a dictionary defines surrender as: "to relinquish possession or control of to another because of demand or compulsion." still, my body insisted, my instincts persisted/pulled me toward this word. it seemed full of life, and indeed, in IX, i find it is. the truth is in the roots.
And in IX one finds a diagramming of the etymology of the word "surrender" and the roots of roots to arrive at a meaning and image of deliverance and setting free. As well as a wry comment about code broken by fluency.

And so for day 1162
17.02.2010

Hard & Hand Wiring

Hand-brain connections at play? David Suzuki introduction to Pebbles to Computers: The Thread. Revealing typo appears in the context of filtering. The note of novelty induced by the typo "handwiring" suggests evolutionary connections.

Like all other organisms, we have the ability to receive information about the world through our sensory apparatus. That information is far from complete. We also have the ability to filter out, from among the many inputs, the signals that we deem important. The filtering mechanisms are conditioned by handwiring (inborn neural circuitry) and learning-through-experience. Thus, we create reality, and that reality is highly personal.
We can speculate that much of our filtering occurs via the hand and its connections. Reminds one of images of the Wilder Penfield inspired cortical homunculus where the hand is almost as large as the face. Hard wired for hand sensing.

And so for day 1161
16.02.2010

Fit Wit

In the last century, we were treated to an intriguing practice. Interrogation of how academic discourse would be inflected. See Gregory Ulmer Teletheory: Gramatology in the Age of Video

Teletheory is concerned with discovering and inventing the kind of thinking and representation available for academic discourse in an electronic age. My working assumption is that the mode I seek is modeled in the simple form of the joke. This possibility is suggested in part by an opposition to the melancholy seriousness that has been associated traditionally with the emotional experience of academic work; and in opposition to the nostalgia that Jameson and others have identified as the predominant emotion of culture in the period of late capitalism. Why should wit be the best response to these moods? [p. 61]
Fast forward.

Ulmer elaborates a practice of mystory and as to be expected by the subtitle weaves in Derrida. This particular passage drawing on Derrida's memorial lectures about his friend Paul de Man and the possibilities of an account of "deconstruction in America" is interesting by its invocation of the turn.
The turn to the anecdotes is required by the impossibility of accounting for somehting still being invented. While confessing his own exclusion from narrative ability, Derrida suggests that there is a story to tell. [Ulmer then quotes from Derrida Mémoires for Paul de Man trans. Cecile Lindsay, Jonathan Culler, and Eduardo Cadava] But is there a proper place, is there a proper story for this thing? [We skip ahead in the quotation to its end.] If I had to risk a single definition of deconstruction, one as brief, elliptical, and economical as a password, I would say simply and without overstatement: plus d'une langue—both more than a language and no more of a language. [Ulmer continues in the next paragraph in his own voice.] I repeated this definition because it is fundamental to the strategy of mystory as a transduction between the different registers of culture. This password is nonsesne, Derrida admits [...] [p. 202]
My own marginal annotations in my copy of Teletheory inscribe the remark "no more from a language" and a cross-reference to see page 203 (the next page) where one finds another marginal annotation that reads " form from see p 202). And underlined on this page is Ulmer's or his typesetter's rendering "to extract form it the wit". Typo, no doubt. Here at play with nonsense and sense. A coming and leaving of language. More flavour and more context:
But if transference is involved, how is the story to be told without mourning? We return here to the problematic of the emergence of electronic discourse specifically in the Symbolic register of narrative, organized by the scene of the entry into language and the internalizations associated with mourning. Mystory attempts to work with and through this scene of mourning, to extract form it the wit generated by the transgressive exchanges also operating in this register.
Form it.

And so for day 1160
15.02.2010

Anthropomorphic Fantasia

It is the sheer extravagance of this passage from the insect chapter where Alexandra Horowitz in her On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes captures the imagination and catapults the reader into what amounts to a world of wondrous activity.

To look at insects up close is to see the hasty cycle of birth, violent killings, and death. Few insects are humanitarians, and even herbivorous insects work great damage to the leaves, buds, grasses, and stems they eat. But Eiseman and I were looking less for insects, and more for the traces of insects past. In following their tiny footsteps, we were forensic insect hunters, looking at the evidence of their criminality they have left in their wake. Insects are messy eaters, like to storm a place and live it up and rarely clean up after themselves (except those polite larvae that eat their own egg cases). They shed their skin, excrete willy-nilly, plunder and pillage, and move on: the insect equivalent of a mad party with only hastily removed clothing, broken bottles, and other detritus left behind. Positively uncivilized.
This is a fanciful approach. It works. Especially when punctuated by petulant "positively uncivilized." Also, the tone is sustained only for this brief passage. The other parts of the chapter while containing touches of humour do not lapse into a romp of describing the insects through human attributes. One paragraph, like a set piece, is enough. A proper civilized measure.

And so for day 1159
14.02.2010

Roughing It

Terry Eagleton. Saints and Scholars. A eureka moment for the character Wittgenstein. Notable for the physicality with which it is described.

Then one day a friend took his photograph on the steps of Senate House and Wittgenstein asked him where he was to stand. 'Oh, roughly there,' the friend replied, casually indicating a spot. Wittgenstein went back to his room, lay on the floor and writhed in excitement. Roughly there. The phrase had opened a world to him. Not 'two inches to the left of that stone,' but 'roughly there'. Human life was a matter of roughness, not of precise measurement. Why had he not understood this? He had tried to purge language of of its ambiguities, but this was like regarding the handle of a cup as a flaw in the pottery. Looseness and ambiguity were not imperfections, they were what made things work.
Eagleton goes on in a lovely fashion about ordinary people moving at ease in, through and around ambiguity. What for me is striking in this description is its connection to the act of producing a record. And then in the cogitation comes the sense that precision and use oppose each other. Yet the passage intimates that there are language games where precision matters. Knowing which is of course a matter of roughly knowing. In such cases the ambiguity maybe located at a metadiscursive level. The necessity of going meta is about coming to some agreement about the contours of the ambiguity.

Going meta: "To go meta is to query the products and experiences of textuality and virtuality. Going meta is a question-based activity." http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance/ivt.htm

And so for day 1158
13.02.2010

Logical Family Migrations

A bridging metaphor. A resonant myth in the context of the novel. Friable when lifted out.

"They migrate like birds," Anna explained. "They're the only butterflies that do. But the distance of their migration is so enormous—thousands of miles—that they can't make the journey on their own. They only live for two months."

"So—how do they do it?"

"They don't. Their children do it. Their grandchildren. Somehow they know exactly where to go and specifically where to land. Somehow—it's in them. The new generation winters in the same tree every year without ever having seen the tree." Anna paused as the butterfly tricycle rounded the corner and disappeared into the swirl of traffic. "They don't need their elders at all. It's a miraculous thing."

Brian knew she was talking to him, but he didn't say a word. He didn't trust his voice not to crack.

"They're poisonous," Anna added, "so they're tough little bastards. Nobody would dare eat them. They're flying caution signs—look at them, orange and black, pure Halloween. But they survive, and their pattern is so familiar it's imprinted on our brains like something generic—like plaid. Am I making any sense?"

Wren murmured her understanding.
Much of this faith in future generations to find their way depends upon a firm belief in the rightness of logical families (as opposed to biological). Of course such affirmative insight comes to us from the charming character Anna Madrigal in Armistead Maupin's ninth novel in the Tales of the City series, The Days of Anna Madrigal. She may be channelling Wittgenstein on family resemblance in her description of the meaning that can be attached to an artcar in the form of a Monarch parading at the Burning Man festival in Black Rock City. Then again she may belong to an entirely different language game.

And so for day 1157
12.02.2010

Looking Back on Looking Back

A re-examination of the hero: Orpheus as inept in letting go.

Of course, Orpheus was a musician, not a painter, and his music was the means through which he worked his seduction, expressed his sorrow, but also pleaded his case. In a way, it was the power he had, but what was finally asked of him was to give up this very power, to walk silently, without audience, without being able to work any effects on the situation. What did he know about quiet walking and soundless trust, and not being able to see for certain that others are moved by what you do?
I just love the long title of the source for this take on Eurydice and Orpheus: Judith Butler. Lecture presented at the Symposium Bracha Ettinger: Aesthetics/Ethics/Politics. At the Slade School of Fine Arts, London, University College, 3 June 2009 On the occasion of the exhibition: Bracha L. Ettinger: Resonance/Overlay/Interweave, Freud Museum, 3 June - 26 July. Printed in a limited edition on the occasion of the exhibition: Bracha L. Ettinger: Fragilization and Resistance. The Finnish Academy of Fine Arts 21-31 August. [Helsinki 2009].

Ovid in Book X of the Metamorphoses emphases that two lovers, one dead and the other mourning, walked the steep path upwards from the nether world "per muta silentia" through a speechless silence. But by what agency is this silence imposed, if it is? Orpheus is silent but under what obligation? Why is speech or music here in Butler's account tied so closely with sight?

Eyes closed... I know you are there by the sound of your voice. A new power of imagination I gain by listening to breath betraying a reaction.

Is it not the very steepness of the path that leads to silence, the struggle to make one's way without rest, without break, just when can the eyes close to listen to the other's breath? (One risks stumbling.) Doesn't steepness result in some form of panting out of which some sort of music can emerge? Overtaken by the body's sounds, accelerated heart and deep inhalations, Orpheus is in some sense deaf and hence moves on to verification by sight and seals his plight. Betrayed by terrain, it is not that he cannot remain silent, it is that he cannot hear. Indeed he has trouble hearing Eurydice's last words to him. They grow faint.

In Ovid, Orpheus in the course of time abandons the love of women and takes up boys. In Golding's translation: And of the flowring pryme of boayes the pleasure for to take. Well, to be fair, that is not the end of the story of Orpheus (see Book XI).

And so for day 1156
11.02.2010