Playing

Revisiting the claims put forth under the name McKenzie Wark in the A Hacker Manifesto there is an opportunity to rethink the expressive power of insemination and resituate diddling practices. Paragraph 257:


This expressive politics does not seek to overthrow the state, or to reform its larger structures, or to preserve its structure so as to maintain an existing coalition of interests. It seeks to permeate existing states with a new state of existence. It spreads the seeds of an alternative practice of everyday life.


Permeate is not the same as penetrate. For safety’s sake, children, please remember: long fuses and short wicks. Slow burn and minimal lap up. Less tolerance for toxic situations and absolute commitment to non-violence. Little shocks and sparks in a permeated atmosphere make big bangs fast.

There are plenty of seeds to go around everyday every hour.

And so for day 17
31.12.2006

Working

Sometimes a sentence serves as a hook, point of friction to rub over while taking note of the smoother surround.

Take for instance a segment in a McKenzie Wark signed text. An excerpt from Paragraph 212 of A Hacker Manifesto is grandly eloquent and ready to rip for mind bending:


Hacking brings into existence the multiplicity of all codes, be they natural or social, programmed or poetic, logical or analogical, anal or oral, aural or visual.


Gingerly re-reading the very sharpness of the statement becomes clear. It is not claimed here that Hacking bring into existence codes or any code for that matter. The generative power of Hacking is to bring into existence the multiplicity. The sentence that expresses this statement goes on to list by means of contrasting pairs a number of codes. The listing serves the very useful purpose of reminding readers that existence / non-existence is itself coded.

The point of arrest is expressed in the following sentence which draws upon the classic figure of the dancer and the dance.


But it is the act of hacking that composes, at one and the same time, the hacker and the hack.


Draws upon but does not ape. The act of hacking composes. This can be taken to indicate an act that uses materials at hand, pre-existing stuff, to explore rearrangements of the material stuff and formulate an expression for the repetition of the arrangements. In this rich sense of the activity, composing aims at the algorithm.

The act of hacking in that it is an act of composition is a recombinant site. As a recombinant site, the act of hacking can be described as a moment of doubling and splitting. The coding (which is not to be confused with the code) goes into both hack and the hacker (and of course the "act of hacking" is not to be confused with "Hacking").


Hacking recognizes no artificial scarcity, no official licence, no credentialing police force other than that composed by the gift relation among hackers themselves.


A composed artificial scarcity is recognized. Recognition is not endorsement.

To restore the integrity of Paragraph 212, return to the first sentence:


What a politics of information can affirm is the virtuality of expression. The inexhaustible surplus of expression is that aspect of information upon which the class interest of hackers depends.


and reskew the relations between "inexhaustible surplus of expression" and "information". Is the surplus merely an aspect? In the spirit of Hacking cannot the interests of a class rest upon minimal expression of a maxima of information? That which is most portable is likely to cover a very large domain.

And so for day 16
30.12.2006

Ardour

Adriana Hunter marvellously translates Catherine Millet's candour as recorded in The Sexual Life of Catherine M. and is particularly adept as conveying the play of pronoun reference:


[...] an ability to program the body independently of physical reactions. A body and the mind attached to it do not live in the same temporal sphere, and their reactions to the same external stimuli are not always synchronized. That is how we hear a shattering piece of news without batting an eyelid or, conversely, can carry on crying even after we have taken on board the fact that everything possible has been done to console us. If I set the assembly-line of pleasure in motion inside me, even if my body encounters some discomforts, they will not be enough to stop it. In other words, I will become aware of the discomfort only after the fact, after I seem to have reached a peak of pleasure, and in the aftermath you really don't care about the discomfort; you forget it before you have noticed it.


There is an admirable capture of the delicate shifts in tone as the prose moves from an impersonal observation on human nature through an inviting and inclusive "we" and yet again turns to the very personal statement about the procurement of erotic pleasure and concludes with a gentle turn away from a very voyeuristic instance to the force of the "you" that is "one" or "anyone".

It is all like blowing out a candle and lingering to smell the smoke.

And so for day 15
29.12.2006

Reciprocity

In contrasting spectacle with carnival, Susan Stewart in On Longing exposes the psycho-dynamics of the spectacular:


[T]he viewer of the spectacle is absolutely aware of the distance between self and spectacle. The spectacle functions to avoid contamination: "Stand back, ladies and gentlemen, what you are about to see will shock and amaze you." And at the same time, the spectacle assumes a singular direction. In contrast to the reciprocal gaze of carnival and festival, the spectacle assumes that the object is blinded; only the audience sees.


In exposing a rather willful assumption, Stewart invites readers to dwell upon how that particular blindness is constructed not out of distance per se but rather out of how the directions crossing any distance are imagined. In short, viewer-readers are implicitly asked to consider that their own acts of looking and reading are open to observation by others. Every voyeur, as opposed to every spy, is a wee bit of an exhibitionist. And conversely good festival requires a smidgen of voyeurism on the part of the performers.

Watch what happens when this lens is applied to reading Laura Hatcher's opening sentences in "Full Frontal Beauty" in Spacing (Winter 2006)


Front yards are private spaces, but very public displays of personality. If you have a front yard, you have a visible way to insert yourself into the urban landscape.


The "yourself" bifurcates. Those that have no front yards have other visible ways (and invisible ones too) to insert themselves. In a more fundamental way the figure of the yardless questions, for some readers, the collapse between personality and self. Where's the distance? The vital distance.

The elephant in the room is the elephant on the page. One of the properties described has in a smallish front yard a big fibreglass elephant. The resident and caretaker of the elephant reports


[...] strangers have left notes at the base of the elephant, and other times he has found offerings of jewellery and flowers. People feel a personal, or even spiritual, connection with the space he has created.


You got to love the pronoun reference ambiguity: the elephant and the resident co-create. And the description of the depositing of respectful traces of passing indicates that "insertion" may not be the dominant mode of spatial relations in the urban landscape. Not being in public but of the public.

Differently attuned to the evidence of reciprocity, it is not so difficult to avoid making a monument synonymous with a spectacle. Monuments can function as mirrors; spectacles, never.

And so for day 14
28.12.2006

Recognitions

Thich Nhat Hanh in Understanding Our Mind writes "Every time a negative formation is recognized it looses some of its strength." Edmund White in the Afterward to Our Paris: Sketches from Memory describes Hubert Sorin's Mémoires dessinées with perhaps an unintended touch of misrecognition and a most welcome shot of strength in a brief memoir recollecting in part the ailing body of the now dead lover:


The figures, no longer his petits bonhommes, were now drawn with a hieratic sophistication, as though Aubrey Beardsley had gone pharaonic. The words, which switched blithely in mid-sentence from English to French, revealed a sensitivity to social nuance which reminds us that in French malicieux means "sly" and malin means "clever"; the evil, or mal, in each word is the necessary spice for the savory dish. Hubert's expectations of his readers were absurdly demanding -- but no higher than those of most contemporary poets, I suppose.


"Mal" also means pain and there is a sustenance in recognizing suffering, our own and that of others. Suffering occurs very much in the present tense despite being reported at times in a sort of retrospective anticipation. It is felt now. Listen and recognize:


Despite the sometimes catty sound of this book [Our Paris, words by White, drawings by Sorin], I hope at least a few readers will recognize that its subtext is love. Hubert loved me with unwavering devotion. [...] I loved him, too, in my cold, stinting, confused way.


"Pain" is bread. There’s something special in the breaking and something homeopathic in the crusts. Crusts: croûte. Not crumbs, les miettes. Interesting however how the crumb is the soft inner portion of the bread, la mie. Dry bread crumbles, scatters like a phalanx. Leaving grit ever so much like drying tears.

And so for day 13
27.12.2006

Auricular

In some circles two English words now mark different but related formations which may or may not correspond to a possible distinction in French between labyrinthe and dédale. It effects how one reads Susan Sontag's parenthetical remark in "Under the Sign of Saturn" about Walter Benjamin. How to make sense of the remark in a world where "labyrinth" is not automatically synonymous with "maze"? First cite:


With these metaphors, he is indicating a general problem about orientation, and erecting a standard of difficulty and complexity. (A labyrinth is a place where one gets lost.) He is also suggesting a notion about the forbidden, and how to gain access to it: through an act of the mind that is the same as a physical act.


A maze has dead ends. A labyrinth like that at Chartres is a perpetually winding road, deadendless.

How can one get loose for/of oneself in a labyrinth? Get dizzy. The inward curving leads to a loss of bearings. North and south become "demapped" from the body's usual orientations. In a maze all of square corners the body can at least retain its left-rightedness.

One gets lost in oneself. To loose oneself is a game of ilinx. There are no dead ends. All is porous and permeable. The game begins by listening to oneself, the vibrations of the membrane in contact with the world.

Sontag after a fashion provides the image of an open self by relating Benjamin's story about drawing a synchronic view of a person and their history (not to be confused with a being in time):


Once, waiting for someone in the Café des Deux Magots in Paris, he relates, he managed to draw a diagram of his life: it was like a labyrinth, in which each important relationship figures as an "entrance to the maze."


Like a labyrinth. Stress on the mise en abyme: picture about a life story within an anecdote. Entrance implies exit. Note not any maze: the maze.

Out by the in door. Turning upon oneself. Spinning. Relating. The ear’s labyrinth, like a shaken compass, translates the self. Even more minimal than the full body rotation "sur place" is the bobbing head. The reading rocking head. In and out of the plane. Back and forth along the same plane. And also the steady head and the steady book, locked in place, moving together to the rhythmic movement of upper body anchored to the pelvis.

Three entanglements between the reader and the read that disappear when listening, hearing while the hands are otherwise occupied, not holding eye to text.

Adage: when we listen we do not pray.

And so for day 12
26.12.2006

Knick-knack

Almost Japanese by Sarah Sheard has one passage that uncannily reminds some readers of the scene describing the results of a special un- and reclassifying of the elements of a collection in Jane Urquhart’s novel The Whirlpool. That which a child touches ...


On my way home I came across a children’s cemetery -- little spirit stones with impish faces, wrapped in red cloth aprons with dustcaps on their heads. Offerings had been left which could only have been children’s treasures -- parts of toys, buttons, crayons, candies.


The reminder no doubt runs through the notion of the formal display of offerings and the artful heaping of mementos wiping out the history of individual accession. The same, the same. Like next to like.

Memory of a scene from elsewhere thus serves to render ambiguous the possessive in this location. A cemetery for children. A cemetery of the remains of once were children.

Treasured by children. Treasures for. There is a distance here. A dispossession that is difficult to grab. Though not impossible if one ever read Beckett rubbed a pebble in a pocket.


And so for day 11
25.12.2006

Commensal

Peter Mayle towards the end of Toujours Provence offers some observations about two expressions that serve phatic functions and then some:


Depending on inflection, ah bon can express shock, disbelief, indifference, irritation, or joy -- a remarkalbe achievement for two short words. Similarly, it is possible to conduct the greater part of a brief conversation with two other monosyllables -- ça va, which literally mean "it goes."


Same ingredients, countless preparations. It is the same ethos that pervades Mayle’s description of table talk or rather talk at table:


There is something about lunch in France that never fails to overcome any small reserves of willpower that I possess. I can sit down, resolved to be moderate, determined to eat and drink lightly, and be there three hours later, nursing my wine and still open to temptation. I don’t think it’s greed. I think it’s the atmosphere generated by a roomful of people who are totally intent on eating and drinking. And while they do it, they talk about it; not about politics or sport or business, but about what is on the plate and in the glass. Sauces are compared, recipes argued over, past meals remembered, and future meals planned. The world and its problems can be dealt with later on, but for the moment, la bouffe takes priority and contentment hangs in the air. I find it irresistible.


Worth noting that being in a state still open to temptation is not the same as having succumbed to temptation.

And for day 10
24.12.2006

Rain

Janet Insetter is closing shop after almost thirty years (27 for those counting). A last leisurely browse into Annex Books mixes chats about chestnut flour pattona and literary anecdotes about poets Robin Skelton and Susan Musgrave. All in a radio-like atmosphere where the talk is meant to be overheard in passing. Discourse. Talk about. And talk among. The books and people.

Among the treasures acquired are a copy of Sontag's Under the Sign of Saturn [for the pieces on Barthes and on Benjamin and all the rest too], Hesse's Glass Bead Game [read twice as a teen and in the plans for a later in life rereading/skipping/skimming], Edmund White's biography of Genet [a book the writing of which had to be defended, publicly, so much was the pressure of the call to activism in the face of mounting death tolls], and this find: four little chapbooks by “endwar” [aka Andrew Russ] under the IZEN imprint (Athens, Ohio).

There is a poem on the final page of from i to iran (more subverse) from eye to irony that is entitled “rain”. Three lines: i / ra n / in

Those lines are set in a formation to produce a representation of a hole bounded by letters -- an open space where rain or reader runs in or out of -- a veritable inn of welcome for contemplation. Appropriate for the oddly unseasonable rain that was falling outside the book store continuing to leak memories and bring in people exchanging thoughts, opinions and questions. The shelves open to witness the flow of the run-in-to experience.

And so for day 9
23.12.2006

Tmesis

Roland Barthes as translated by Richard Miller reflects at one point in the Pleasure of the Text upon passages that are skipped over boldly or skimmed only. And as the eye roves over the page, tempted to fly in concert with the hand holding the finger behind the leaf and ready to turn, poised to flip on, a term arrests attention. Hooked, the reading slows.


Tmesis, source or figure of pleasure, here confronts two prosaic edges with one another; it sets what is useful to to a knowledge of the secret against what is useless to such knowledge; tmesis is a seam or flaw resulting from a simple principle of functionality; it does not occur at the level of the structure of languages but only at the moment of their consumption; the author cannot predict tmesis: he cannot choose to write what will not be read. And yet, it is the very rhythm of what is read and what is not read that creates the pleasure of [...]


Technically, tmesis is not the joining of edge to edge. Tmesis is an incision. The suture effect relies upon re-connecting. Between the parts of a compound word other words are inserted.

Barthes is being naughty. As a figure of pleasure, tmesis marks a source of castration. Oddly given the context the power seems to be on the reader's side to abuse the integrity of the text. The reader can choose what parts to read. Barthes underscores such practices as pleasurable. But the poor reader is deluded if said poor reader understands "he [the author] cannot choose to write what will not be read" as referencing the passages that may be skipped. The "will not be read" is far more categorical. The will not be read by the reader is not symmetrical to the will not be written by the author. The author cannot choose to write it. He cannot write it.

But that doesn’t mean that through the agency of the writer the will-not-be-read will not be written.

Confused? There are two types of will-not-be-read. One read at least once by the author and not by the reader (or at least not read in a given time interval or gathering of such intervals). The other will-not-be-read has not been read by either author or reader. And by definition will not be read. But that doesn’t mean it will not be.

A short cut through all this is to pay attention to the gender of the pronoun and transcode the statement about choice. She cannot [but] choose to write what will not be read. And why not bend it further with use and mention and a proper name: Barthes cannot but choose to write what will not be read.


And so for day 8
22.12.2006

Conveyance

Brian Swann in the introduction to Wearing the Morning Star: Native American Song-Poems explains the nature of song sounds. He elaborates in a note:


Vocables, until recently dubbed "meaningless syllables," can in fact be very complex. It has been pointed out, for example, that in Kwakiutl songs vocabalic introductions prefigured in microcosm the structure of the song as a whole, and David P. McAllester has said that the same thing can be seen in Navajo songs [...]


The semantic is not merely verbal. Meaning resides in what may appear or sound like nonsense. Further, the apparently meaningful is not always the effective. The value of nonsense comes to make sense.

Pattern. "Noise" is also a verb. Push to pull and the door opens as if you went in by the out door, if neither are locked, and you're on the other side.

And so for day 7
21.12.2006

Side-Effects

Ubik by Philip K. Dick has at the head of each section or chapter a mock advertisement set almost like the verse that accompanies the prose sections of Mennipean satire. For example, the eleventh:


Taken as directed, Ubik provides uninterrupted sleep without morning-after grogginess. You awaken fresh, ready to tackle all those little annoying problems facing you. Do not exceed recommended dosage.


Reads like a prescription for reading Ubik itself. Like a prescription for reading.

How deliciously addictive is the folding of the theme of reading into the act of reading. Poisonously so. For the being-read exceeds the reading. The risk is not in overdose by reading everywhere every instance as equivalent. The grave danger is in missing nutriment from the uniqueness of every and each instance everywhere.

And so for day 6
20.12.2006

Inscriptions

Upon the occasion of a second hand book sale an encounter with a dead man’s (Roger Spalding) copy of a still living author’s novel (Edmund White’s The Beautiful Room is Empty) there is an opportunity to enter the ethos of the scroll bearing the stamps of previous owners and commentators. Stamp upon stamp clustering near an edge.

Front flyleaf bears a date (Nov 23/88) top of the page and to the left and to the right Roger’s name, longhand. At the back above the colophon and the Note on the Type ("Old Style No. 7, composed in a page, gives a subdued color and an even texture that make it easily and comfortably read.") is another date, a span of five days (Aug. 18-20/95), and below a comment, all in green ink:


grotesquely overwritten

& very sloppily edited

(though not quite as bad as

A Boy’s Own Story)


Beneath that judgement and below the Note on the Type and below an arrow travelling the margin pointing upwards to the words left by Roger, unsigned, in a different hand, also in green ink:


Nov. 06

Yes sloppy not in its being overwritten or poorly

edited but in the plainness of its neurosis

set in a plot structure similiar [sic] to pulp fiction

trash. Ordinary ignition - Sparks without

a bonfire. True to the problem of finding an

idiom suited to the personal & social feeling of love.


The response ends there at the page’s edge.

On the front flyleaf on a line immediately below Roger’s is a date (Nov/06) and a name in the same green ink hand as the response from the back and immediately below, a long expanse of white space to the page’s end. Or so it was prior to release on the occasion of another second hand book sale and further adventures.

And so for day 5
19.12.2006

Gatherings

Joy Harjo has a line in "The Field of Miracles" in The woman who fell from the sky: poems that opens the imagination to the strength of attentions to particulars:


the leaf a codex for the season of memory


The leaf, initial conditions. A codex, a limiting form. Memory, system.

Ergodicity: an attribute of stochastic systems; generally, a system that tends in probability towards a limiting form that is independent of initial conditions.

In a season of chance, poetry veers to the mapping. There are but two options: a stack or a layout. The leaves are either side by side as on a page or occluding each other in recto-verso relations. And in themselves leaves have a back and front; incorporate a minimum of codex characteristics.

The binding unwinds. Memory is all that holds the stitches, all that provides the glue. And memory provides the power to unwind the readings, fold them into other limiting forms. Release the leaves to the blowing winds.

And so for day 4
18.12.2006

Travels

Via a 1970 imprint published at Kandy, Ceylon, by the Buddhist Publication Society and the scholarly work of Bhikkhu Nanajivako, a passage from The World as Will and Respresentation as translated into English by E.F.J. Payne, a passage bearing on considerations of genre and temporal perspectives:


The life of every individual, viewed as a whole and in general, and when only its most significant features are emphasized, is really a tragedy; but gone through in detail it has the character of a comedy. For the doings and worries of the day, the restless mockeries of the moment, the desires and fears of the week, the mishaps of every hour, are all brought about by chance that is always bent on some mischevious trick; they are nothing but scenes from a comedy. [...] the hopes mercilessly blighted by fate, the unfortunate mistakes of the whole life, with increasing suffering and death at the end, always give us tragedy.


Chance in the camp of comedy. Necessity on the side of tragedy. The one displays an arc through time, a pattern of decline and fall, which in its very simplicity is given to a complex discursvie place occupied by an "us" always on this side of the full story. The multiplicity of the chance occurances cluster but are not gathered up in the completion of an end. Hence "scenes" from but never the whole comedy is on offer.

Wherever Schopenhauer takes the asymmetry between chance and necessity and between tragedy and comedy it is worth pausing before departing in some direction to ask if the chance coming together of the reader and the text is always tragic. The life and its story are not one and the same. There is room here for something uncannily other. An unoccupied territory beyond tragedy or comedy and utterly improvized sur le vif.

And so for day 3
17.12.2006

Occasions

Simone, Louisette and Julia afix their initials to the Commonwealth edition of the forward to Mastering the Art of French Cooking and thus above those signature elements can be read:


This is a book for the servantless cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, timetables, children’s meals, or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat.


Beautifully hedged: on occasion, not always. Children’s meals, not children. Might interfere. All under the sign of unconcernedness.

And so for day 2
16.12.2006

Cannibalize

Lowell Gallagher concludes the introduction to the Medusa’s Gaze thus


The shape of that [casuistry’s] career, I believe, effectively rewrites the premises governing the eventual manifestations of the discourse of conscience in the literary culture of the eighteenth century, at a time when casuistry, if it no longer commanded the kind of prestige (and infamy) it had once known as an independent discourse, nonetheless continued, cannibalized by other discourses, to exert its power --- a fate, one might argue particularly fitting to casuistry.


I turn from my reading to recall poet Bronwen Wallace who is the first person I recall using the term cannibalize in relation to the creation of verbal artefacts. It has been a while since I read Signs of the Former Tenant or The Stubborn Particulars of Grace. What would I find there now?

And so for day 1
15.12.2006