The Infallible Ineffable

Proust quotation (found in red ink on an index filing card):

[...] and bodily desire has the marvellous faculty of restoring its value to intelligence and a solid base to the moral life.
Beckett on Proust:
So that no amount of voluntary manipulation can reconstitute in its integrity an impression that the will has — so to speak — buckled into incoherence. But if, by accident, and given favourable circumstances (a relaxation of the subject's habit of thought and a reduction of the radius of his memory, a generally diminished tension of consciousness following upon a phase of extreme discouragement), if by some miracle of analogy the central impression of a past sensation recurs as an immediate stimulus which can be instinctively identified by the subject with the model of duplication (whose integral purity has been retained because it has been forgotten), then the total past sensation, not its echo nor its copy, but the sensation itself, annihilating every spatial and temporal restriction, comes in a rush to engulf the subject in all the beauty of its infallible proportion.
A little ways on, Beckett provides us with the image of the mechanism via the work of vases:
The most trivial experience — he [Proust] says in effect — is encrusted with elements that logically are not related to it and have consequently been rejected by our intelligence: it is imprisoned in a vase filled with a certain perfume and a certain colour and raised to a certain temperature. These vases are suspended along the height of our years, and, not being accessible to our intelligent memory, are in a sense immune, the purity of their climatic content is guaranteed by forgetfulness, each one is kept at its distance, at its date. So that when the imprisoned microcosm is besieged in the manner described, we are flooded by a new air and a new perfume (new precisely because already experienced), and we breathe the true air of Paradise, of the only Paradise that is not the dream of a madman, the Paradise that has been lost.
And so a return to transcribing that index card:
... and bodily desire has the marvellous
   faculty of restoring its value to
   intelligence and a solid base to the
   moral life.
Nice how the marvellous balances out there on the edge.

And so for day 1341

Long Series of Negations to Not Express

In three dialogues with Georges Duthuit in Transition '49 no. 5 Samuel Beckett takes up three painters (Tal Coat, Masson, Bram van Velde) in light of a problematic of expression. In the first dialogue on Tal Coat this is expressed in an apophatic fashion:

The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.
The impossibility alongside the obligation. Or rather a host of impossiblities bundled together before the obligation. It loses its rhetorical force if the order is inverted. The culmination is in obligation. It's not a starting point. But it is not not one either.

And so for day 1340


In the "The Fall of 1992" in Poetry April 2010 we find Randall Mann's poetic voice pointing to something so dreadful it is hardly named.

[...] And the gin-soaked dread
that an acronym was festering inside.
This particular issue of Poetry has not only poems but also explanations by the poets.
The fall of 1992 was an Ecstasy — and booze-fueled, boy-crazy time for me, the season I "came out," as if I needed to make it official (I didn't unlock the closet door so much as push back the beads). [...] Sex equaled death then, or so I imagined (the "acronym" mentioned in the poem is AIDS); in the fall of 1992, I was oversexed, and I don't remember the half of it; as a consequence when I wasn't numb, I was often pretty terrified.
And for some reason (sexiness quotient?) my mind turns to Napoleon Solo and other acroynms: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. where U.N.C.L.E. was an acronym for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement which was intended to be ambiguous and invoke either "Uncle Sam" or the "United Nations". That was a different season. Less deadly.

And so for day 1339

Flash in the Pan

The words are almost good to eat.

I put the bacon into the pan.
It lies there, lank and perfectly relaxed.
After a few minutes, though, a marvellous transformation
starts: the bacon begins to whisper, then hiss,
sinks down, becomes transparent, bubbles and snaps,
and babbles to itself, turning crinkled and brown and stiff.
As good as this description is from Tom Waymman's Free Time it is not followed by a description of the eating of the bacon. The "Kitchen Poem" does go on to describe the making of a salad and the partaking of a crisp stalk of celery. But what I remember most is the beginning and the implicit analogy between cooked bacon and old age.

And so for day 1338

In The Flesh

I dreamt that Toronto hosted a Lesbian and Gay Book Fair. There was the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives and Art Metropole (a non-profit artist-run centre incorporated in 1974) and big publishing houses. There were of course readings and sessions on curating, collecting and marketing. I also dreamt that I won the lottery to underwrite the fair and keep entry fees low. It wasn't quite as big as the Frankfurt Buchmesse but it was big. (It was a dream after all.)

In doing some homework I came across a venerable New York City institution: Rainbow Book Fair. A perusal of the exhibitors lead me to renew acquaintance with RFD and its really farout designs and the most amusing expansions of its namesake acronym. It was fun to discover that there was a Canadian presence at the Rainbow Book Fair — the ever rad Arsenal Pulp Press.

With the World Wide Web, one can dream out loud. :) And frolic

And so for day 1337

Negative Space For Filing


I recently came into possession of a micro puzzle from Wentworth Wooden Jigsaw Company (On the Terrace by Auguste Renoir).

The trick to assembling is recognizing pattern through negative space.

Very close in time I encountered a re-modelled supermarket. Gone were the stashes of magazines at checkout. Cleaner sight lines. Product was still available for impulsive purchase. But in a shallow side bin where you would pick up the item and inspect it — a bit more committal than a visual scan of a rack. I really don't care if it is the ubiquitous digital device that has driven the change. I like the new aesthetic.

Visual clutter is vile.

But then again I need to reassess the negative space on my desk top — it would be vile pile of visual clutter by some standards and a fortuitous terrain for the random collisions that all the shuffling sparks by an other standard. But it is easy to make negative space

with filing and coding practices (tucking, grouping, piling).

How like a checkout line is the key board ... a filtering mechanism, a temporary focus in the ongoing stream of product offered for purchase on our attention.

And so for day 1336

Wet Stones Whet Colour

Barry Lopez in "The Passing Wisdom of Birds" in Crossing Open Ground makes a fine distinction.

[T]hough it is possible to write precisely about something, this does not automatically mean one is accurate.
Which is a sentiment/observation that plays in the back of my mind as I recall an earlier passage ("Yukon-Charley: The Shape of Wilderness") where water magic is at work.
I am drawn later to the water's edge, a primal attraction. Bent over like a heron I start upriver, searching for stones, lured by the sparkling quartzes and smooth bits of glistening debris: maroon and blue, wheat colors, speckled birds' eggs colors, purple, coal — I can settle twenty on the back of my hand, each one a different shade. I could poke here until I dropped of old age. My pockets slowly fill with stones, each tied vaguely to pleasure. It's ten-thirty at night. The sun, low on the northwest horizon, throws light across to a full moon in the southeast sky.
Recalling my own engagement in collecting as a child, I fix vividly upon dry stones bereft of the shine offered by wetness and now at this late remove I remember sucking stones to restore colour. And such sucking reminds me of Beckett's Malloy in the novel of the same name and the rotations of a set of stones through pockets and mouth ... and a passage both precise and accurate.

And so for day 1335

People Falling Apart Moving On

Coarse. Very course.

It's poetry full of drinking and fucking. Scenes from an urban wasteland. Tales of a company town.

But yet there is poetry here.

A suicide on Friday and damn awkward water
cooler moments Monday
Someone jokes that they should have done it
Might have got a long weekend
Someone calls him a bastard and you
were thinking the same thing. Big tragedies.
And it's all going to be reasoned away.
Stress. Home trouble. Something.
No excuses for small things.
Can't blame stress on stress the wife on the wife
Won't hold water. Adds up
Fractions like splinters like sharp halves quarters
Adding adding crying jags
Ritual masturbation suicide drinking gambling
Other than goddam concrete.
Sales meetings production lines
Company lines assumed like hobby
Sidewalks nooses melodrama.
Explainable. Excusable. I'm from Windsor.
They make cars there.
Fractions like splinters this is what we get from the pieces in Jon R. Flieger Never Sleep With Anyone From Windsor (Black Moss Press) and something more. There is a rhythm. It's a wreck but smashed in such a way that to name the city is almost like saying "Stop, stop." and concluding some sort of exorcism. But we are not in the land of demons — it's all reasoned away, even if only by a simple recitation in a mode as relentless as an assembly line. All done to a sound track from Neo Geo "Risky" by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

And so for day 1334

Sound Sources Sound Quoting

And so it begins... The Gift to be Simple: Songs, Dances and Rituals of the American Shakers (1940) by Edward Deming Andrews

The first Shaker "songs" were wordless tunes. In their meetings at Manchester, on board the ship "Mariah" which took them to America, and at the early preaching stations in the new world, the Believers had n hymns, anthems or spiritual songs expressive of their new-born faith. Taboo were the songs they were accustomed to sing: the anthems of the established sects, the "carnal" verses of British marches, hunting songs, popular ballads and other secular compositions. Singing was either a droning of fragments from the psalms, a babble of "unknown tongues," shouts and outcries of "ho, ho," "halleluiah," etc., or such random sing-song as "do, do, diddle, do" and "too-ral-loo." [p.9]
It is from this book that Jerome Rothenberg selects a piece to include in his 1985 updated edition of Technicians of the Sacred. He adds to the "sounds" section an 1847 Shaker song (Ah pe-an t-as ke t-an te loo) composed of non-English vocables. Rothenberg sets the Shaker song next to songs with Navajo and an Australian Aborigine origins. Fair enough in the context of cross-cultural ethnopoetics. In the commentary he doesn't quite lead us astray but neither does he elaborate at any length on the actual origins of the Shaker song, gift of Indian spirits. He begins by taking Andrews's first sentence (drops by the way the quotation marks around "songs") on page 9 and threads to it a passage from page 29. He does indicate the ellipsis in his quotation from Andrews:
"The first Shaker songs were wordless tunes ... [&] were received from Indian spirits or from the shades of Eskimos, Negroes, Abyssinians, Hottentots, Chinese and other races in search of salvation. Squaw songs, and occasionally a papoose song, were common. When Indian spirits came into the Shaker Church, the instruments would become so 'possessed' that they sang Indian songs, whooped, danced and behaved generally in the manner of 'savages'" (Andrews, p. 29).
It is Rothenberg who places quotation marks around 'savages'. They are absent in Andrews.
During the period of the so-called "manifestations" many "native" songs were received from Indian spirits or from the shades of Eskimos, Negroes, Abyssinians, Hottentots, Chinese and other races in search of salvation (note 49). Squaw songs, and occasionally a papoose song, were common. When Indian spirits came into the Shaker Church, the instruments would become so "possessed" that they sang Indian songs, whooped, danced and behaved generally in the manner of savages.
Note 49 reads:
The Shakers believed that the souls of the dead wandered about until they were converted and entered the Shaker heaven, a celestial community of stately spiritual buildings, gardens of delicious fruits and beautiful trees and flowers. The spirits of departed Believers held intimate communion with mortals who were already traveling the way of regeneration or resurrection. Through such psychic attunement, heavenly songs, melodies and messages could be imparted, and sensitive Shaker instruments could in turn envisage, and hear the voices of, the heavenly saints.
Rothenberg appends the following comment to his quotation from Andrews: "As such, they [these gift songs from Indian spirits] show the kind of connection between ideological & formal innovation that has characterized many movements-of-recovery, past & present." To which we append this observation from Andrews:
Usually, at the beginning of the meeting, the rounds and marches were ceremoniously performed; but as we shall see, orderly services sometimes turned into what was called "a quick meeting," or "Shaker high," when dancing would return to its earlier, the "back" or "promiscuous" form, and the singing, regardless of spectators, partake of a substance and quality not provided for in the printed hymnals.
From one collector, Rothenberg, to another, Andrews, we receive gifts when we track the sources through their material spaces, spirits notwithstanding. It is our own sort of salvation through sound.

And so for day 1333

Surplus Surplus

From the collector of definitions.

Flâneur: dandy, stroller, person at ease in a kaleidoscope of turns.
From the philosopher-poet.
In the paradise of ceaseless commerce and consumption, where nothing can ever be lacking, some things are nonetheless impossible to find. One of them is cumulative thought; another is the unhurried privacy on which all thought depends. It is curious that mental independence should wither away in the face of constant surplus — but in the shopping mall, that is what occurs.
Robert Bringhurst. "A Poet and A War" in Everywhere Being Is Dancing
From the satirist, two anecdotes. Related here in reverse order of their appearance. Both hilariously funny.
But I really think this has gone too far, this worship of choice. I take my mum out for a cup of coffee and I say, "What would you like?" and I get quite impatient if she says, with surprise, "Um, a cup of coffee?" I want her to specify what size, what type, whipped cream or no whipped cream, choice of sprinkle, type of receptacle, type of milk, type of sugar — not because either of us cares about how such stuff, but because I'm expecting all these questions at the counter, and you look daff if you dither.

"I would have whole-heartedly agreed with you, Ms Truss, if you had not fatally undermined your authority by committing a howler of considerable dimensions quite early in the book, on page 19. I refer, of course, to the phrase 'bow of elfin gold'. Were you to consult The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981), you would find in letter 236 that Professor Tolkien preferred the term 'elven' to 'elfin', but was persuaded by his editors to change it. Also, it was the dwarves who worked with gold, of course; not the elves. Finally as any student of metallurgy would instantly confirm, gold is not a suitable element from which to fashion a bow, being at once too heavy and too malleable. With all good wishes, enjoyed your book immensely, keep up the good work, your fan."
Lynne Truss. Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door
For me Bringhurst's images bring to mind the figure of the forager who also encounters a cornucopia and makes a judicious choice in harvesting: it is not so much that the surplus is the cause of all the trouble but our attitude to the surplus.

Truss is splendid when these disparate passages are connected to bring to mind the relation between abundant offerings and the art of the connoisseur. The link between choices on offer and the making of choices is tenuous. Imagine if you will riffling through pages of a book (sadly missing an index: no "Tolkien", no "coffee") to track down the appropriate anecdote and compare that to a leisurely amble through its pages. Different ways of consuming.

In both of these instances, I am reminded of the work of Jane Jacobs and the evolution of city neighbourhoods and would like to emphasize that the choices on offer may disappear.

And so for day 1332