Mudra Magic

Witnessing a performance by Clara Venice ( on the theremin made me think of how like some of the gestures required to master this difficult instrument are like mudras — the postures of the hands in meditative practice.

See the cover of the Canadian edition Sean Michaels Us Conductors (a novel about Clara Rockmore and Lev Termen) for a depiction of a beautiful silhouette of a player which captures brilliantly the importance of gesture as a means of means of making sound mean in a radiating field of waves.

And so for day 1152

Noumenal Nominations

Michel Serres. Variations on the Body.

Metamorphoses of the enamoured body: universal love passes through sand, floral games and animal races; those in love begin this way, with the desire for things and the world, before crowning one another in corporal ecstasy in God. We will only understand one another when we join together in the round or in the dance of all these melanges.
God. It sticks. I can appreciate the quasi-pantheistic relation with the materiality of the world — those melanges. How then do we go from mixture and multitude to a crowning in God? Got to reread carefully. The mystical ecstasy is but one moment in a surge of games and races. A crest of a wave as ephemeral as the peak of a mountain. It is part of the mix.

The weight of the preposition is unbearable. How can this all be contained in God? How vast that absolute must be.

Odd as an atheist I still want the poetry of the mystics to inform my world and I a grateful for the glimpses that come my way such as this from Simone Weil "Chance" in Gravity and Grace, nicely quoted in a card received from a friend.
Stars and blossoming fruit-trees: utter permanence and extreme fragility give an equal sense of eternity.
The permanence of a cycle of flowering and fruition set beside the churn of explosions millions of light-years away. The turbulent and the fragile and the leap to eternity. There is a gulf here.

How difficult it is to think the limit beyond the limitless. How easy to imagine all the carrying on beyond one's finite being. How well can the imagination serve the thinking?

And so for day 1151

Snow Snowing

The opening lines from Émile Nelligan's "Soir d'hiver" came to mind

Ah! comme la neige a neigé!
Ma vitre est un jardin de givre
when I read Alice Oswald's rendition of an extended simile from Homer's Iliad
Like snow falling like snow
When the living winds shake the clouds into pieces
Like flutters of silence hurrying down
To put a stop to the earth at her leafwork
Memorial is subtitled in its American edition as "A Version of Homer's Iliad" but I prefer the British edition which gives "An Excavation of the Iliad".

And through the magic of search engines and keywords, I am reminded of the description of Ulysses in Book III of the Iliad thanks to a text by Françoise Létoublon "Les récits d’Ulysse" to accompany an exhibition (Homer and the Muses) at the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
L’image de la neige, énigmatique, a été commentée dans des sens divers et la traduction de Mugler par "flocons de neige" est peut-être fallacieuse : plutôt que comme une douce neige ouatée et silencieuse, la parole d’Ulysse tombe probablement dru comme une tempête de neige, tempête qui relèverait en effet du sublime.

Soft batting or blizzard: snow.

Alexander Pope (1688 - 1744) opts for the soft but penetrating snow (his translations of Homer have been made available online through a Penn State Electronic Classics Series Publication).
But when Ulysses rose, in thought profound,
His modest eyes he fix’d upon the ground;
As one unskill’d or dumb, he seem’d to stand,
Nor raised his head, nor stretch’d his sceptred hand;
But, when he speaks, what elocution flows!
Soft as the fleeces of descending snows,
The copious accents fall, with easy art;
Melting they fall, and sink into the heart!
I have drifted far from Nelligan. And there is no way back. Snow has covered the tracks.

And so for day 1150

Adverb Reverb

In the introduction to Trish Salah's Wanting in Arabic Lisa Robertson proposes that

A lyric culture will always be wildly embodied.
And the body can be made to surface with very slight resources if one is aware of the power of conventions and constrictions. Take for example:
2 sets after Giles


Giles is Giles Benaway who in a workshop exercise asked us to compose a piece from 5 to 10 lines, no rhymes and no words ending in "ly". Of course who wouldn't be tempted by all rhymes all in "ly"?

And so for day 1149

Owe Awe

In terza rima James Pollock takes us on a tour of Quarry Park, Madison, Wisconsin. The tour includes a duet with a cardinal, musings on the shaping of the landscape by ice-age glacial pressure, the tumbling climb and repeated exertions of a two-and-a-half-year-old, an amazing observation of ants feeding off of aphids and fending off a ladybug attack on their source of aphid nectar, the burial practices of first peoples, the rowan and other plantings of a family that inhabited the site. It's rich and engaging and clips along in part due to the deft handling of the interlocking rhyme scheme. Difficult to choose a passage to pick up but here is an apt act of thanksgiving told askant:

even in the midst of death; how we forget
and how our forgetting makes us homeless
until we dig ourselves out of this debt

we owe the giant past for making us
ourselves. [...]
In some very strong fashion the writing of poetry and its sharing with others is a way to acknowledge debt and in such acknowledgement is a way out of debt. We do find our way to home through acquaintance with our surroundings and their history, recent and remote. We are enjoined to not forget as a step to remembering. It is worth stressing the multiple: it is ourselves that are remembered by not forgetting and being mindful of debt of that singular circumstance that is the "giant past".

Pollock's poem "Quarry Park" is found in Sailing to Babylon.

And so for day 1148


I am reading a book by Mutlu Blasing entitled Lyric Poetry: The Pain and Pleasure of Words. It's a bit dense in parts. Clunky of sorts. But it does meticulously propose with unctuous prose what the "I" intentionally constructs as subjectivity and sense. Here's an excerpt from early on:

The signifier is indeterminate or unstable, and this indeterminacy is a matter not just of a figural complexity of layered meanings but of new senses being generated out of sound affinities. Alternate subliminal meanings and arguments can run along a sequence of rhymes or sound-related words, whether systematized or not; such syntactic liberties as inversions or sentence fragments - which may themselves be partly serving the formal imperatives of meter, rhyme, and sound patterns - facilitate this production of surplus sense.
I find myself rereading sentences and paragraphs just to ensure I can follow... and I share with friends who respond
Beautiful - and I think I get the concept of sound affinities and how they can generate new senses - never thought about it but sort of sensed it. I will have something to ponder on my favourite XpuHa beach ("X" is pronounced sort of like "sch" in say - marshall - Xpu "early in the morning" almost dawn", while "ha" means something moist, could be water. Here is a sound affinity for you. Yes, I am off to Mexico [...]
And for some reason I am reminded of Kenneth Goldsmith being interviewed by Brooke Gladstone.
The voice hydrates the driest of texts. At the White House, I did a, a little set about the Brooklyn Bridge, and I read a short excerpt from Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" and then Hart Crane's modernist 1930s poem, "The Bridge", and then I finished up with some traffic reports, that included The Bridge as a bit player, from my book, "Traffic."

Now, of course, the President and the First Lady were there, and there were Democratic Party donors and arts administrators and senators, and the like. And they kind of quietly sat through the Whitman and they sat through the Crane, you know, the real poetry. But when it came to the traffic reports, the whole room jumped! It was language that they could recognize. It was, it was, you know, their language. The most avant-garde move was the one that excited them the most.
WNYC - On the Media, Transcript
Friday, March 08, 2013

And so for day 1147

The Play of Sensory Modalities

On the types of exercises and games in his improv and music creation classes:

Then you shuffle the roles and play again. People keep experiencing the game from different perspectives: sometimes watching it from the outside as a spectator, sometimes hearing it only as sound, sometimes participating in it. I think people get a greater insight into the game by being shuffled through those different roles.
Misha Glouberman with Sheila Heti. The Chairs Are Where the People Go: How to Live, Work, and Play in the City.

Simple to adapt to a bit of solo play (while for example being transported on public transit): look, listen (with eyes closed) and move about. There is a show on — and you're part of it somehow.

And so for day 1146


The weight of the book in hand, the quality of the paper to support the reproduction of the photographs, these are things I notice because my first read of Looking for Marshall McLuhan in Afghanistan by Rita Leistner was on screen where the reader floats on a plane or plateau from text to image to text where scrolling is not met by the flicker of turning pages.

I now wonder if my eye would have settled on the same passage if I had encountered the codex version first. The points of entry might be different but I suspect the destination would similar. I like to think that the implied narrative of the closing sequence of photographs: landscape, view point, and figure walking into the landscape stand as a reminder of the journey traced in reading Looking for Marshall McLuhan in Afghanistan — there is no end of observing, noting and reporting.

These are two field notes from that fly by reading of the text and images on screen. They are addressed to the author. Notice how they avoid seduction by McLuhan's tetrads the I negotiates a kind of deconstructive homage.

Re: Prophylactive Therapy

I really like the implied tension here between before and after (prophylaxis is to prevent and therapy is to amliorate trauma, wound, ailment).

Very prominently displayed in the book is the term "prophylactive"

This is an intriguing neologism (the adjective is "prohylactic"). One of its echoes is a combo: profile + active. Such a combo is a subliminal reminder of the need to be an engaged reader of images. As well "prophylactive" shares an end sound with "laxative" and hints at activites of purging.
So sensitized, we take on the tetrad's magic...
On another note, I was thinking about the heuristic value of the tetrad and your deployment of the tetrads at the end of the book. In a moment of reflexivity I considered what it would be like to construct a tetrad of the form of the tetrad. Your book had me thinking of the layered connections between maps, series, stories and points of view/perspective. And so regardless of recuperation or obsolescence, I can now sketch out at little diagram with "tetrad" at the centre and surround at four points by "map" "series" "story" and "point of view perspective".

Why stop there? Why not put your innovative "iprobe" in the middle? Mischievously, the "iprobe" is surrounded by four "iprobes" ... :) It all implodes or it expands outward into a plane of interlocking discursive moments.

All this came to me because of your statement that the book was designed to be "off the grid" which I took not only to reference connection to electrical supply but also the very designed principle at work in the organization of the material -- it's very strongly a "grid" layout which of course makes reading off the grid the default position. There is the homage to Quintion Fiore in the typographical display -- but it's still grid-like where Fiore would put in an oblique or two or even a vortex. And the grid is perfect for the "series" display -- each section works through a reproduction of form or genre. The "series" when layered together provide a "map" and each map deserves an interpretation or story. It becomes obvious that the single image needs to be viewed in the context of a series of images in order to become a faithful map to a situation.

Very intriguing. The iProbe masters the grid to generate some off-grid thinking.
As Julian Stallabrass writes in the forward "action, purpose and subject matter cannot be downplayed as mere side-effects of media." We need voices like Rita's to guide the looking and the analysis and guard against any side effects of the prophylaxis.

And so for day 1145

Inaccessible Residual

Searching for what is just out of reach leads us in another direction to look into. Such is the impression generated by Edward Carson's poetry where the repetitions and echoes provide switchbacks for an never ending road. Take the opening and ending of the fourth and final section of "The Force That Keeps Things Afloat" in Birds Flock Fish School.

This thinking we love leaves everything behind.


us far behind. This thinking that we love
most is everything we cannot begin to undo.
Marilyn Bowering in a blurb to Carson's Taking Shape remarks that his poems "don't attempt to bind the un-bindable". And again there is the deft hand with conclusions that are not final but are definitive. Take the last poem in the sequence "The Shape of Things".
The shape of things to come is the very last of things
we think of, the last of a generation of thought

moving between us, inventing the time and place
of our love and memories. Together we will summon

the part of the day, and the part of the night
the part of the land, and the part of the water

where we have lain so gently in each other's arms,
where we have dreamed so much, and said so little.

There is nothing left on this wide earth to explain.
There is nothing else for us to come home to.
For in a sense we are at home in this thinking so gently bound to eros. There is the aura of a creation myth in this meditative sequence disguised as a love poem. And an elegy for a future we cannot both inhabit together.

And so for day 1144

Story and Imitation

Michel Serres in Variations on the Body begins with the body in motion (mountain climbing) and from there invites us to meditate on the body's metamorphoses which forms the basis of imitation and learning. The argument rehearsed here is crude and lacks the evocativeness of Serres's prose. I quote at length from a section called "The Two Metmorphoses".

Fables, stories in which all living things give signs, teach profound things. La Fontaine began his last book with "The Companions of Ulysses"; metamorphosed into animals, these companions decline to become human again, confessing thereby that they have finally found their definitive point of equilibrium, their true character, their fundamental passion. This is how and why men can become animals, why their respective bodies imitate a species, and how fables are written. Fairy tales fascinate children because, endowed with a hundred degrees of freedom, their bodies lend themselves, as much as those of gymnasts and dancers, to every possible transformation, and because this capability, almost infinitely supple, lets them understand from within, by a delighted coenesthesia, the workings of the magic wand, which are less illusory than virtual, less inspired by sorcery than a pedagogy of the possible. Ulysses's sailors have lost this.
We never quite sit still while listening to a story...

And so for day 1143