The Workings of Envy

Brillat-Savarin is brilliant in this tortured yet elegant following of how constant complainers think.

I shall remark, in this connection, that those men who are never satisfied with anything are almost always ignorant people who criticize sharply in the hope that their daring will make them seem to know many things which in reality they have not had the capacity to learn.

Very satisfying sentence. The M.F.K. Fisher rendering twists appropriately. Note how the ear almost hears "opportunity to learn" and so is willing to be indulgent and forgiving but the ear clearly reads "capacity" and so the condemnation is all the greater.

And so for day 229

Less is More

I have perused the calendar for the University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies which for the 2007-2008 year is designed around the theme "Learn More." There is a full page photo of David Gilmour, the novelist and instructor. He looks relaxed with a winning smile. He leans slightly with one hand on the back of the chair and the other holding his jacket slung over his shoulder. He is dressed in basic black. The image lends force to the quotation.

Writing's a bit like living, I think. It's what you cut out, not add on that makes it better.

Trying to work those two sentences to see what can be cut *grin* "Writing: it's what you cut out not add on that makes it better."

And so for day 228

Tribe Dream & Theory

Kathy Acker Empire of the Senseless, two passages juxtaposed. First about skin inscriptions:

Among the early Christians, tattoos, stigmata indicating exile, which at first had been forced on their flesh, finally actually served to enforce their group solidarity. The Christians began voluntarily to acquire these indications of tribal identity. Tattooing continued to have ambiguous social value; today a tattoo is considered both a defamatory brand and a symbol of tribe or of a dream.

Makes me wonder about the marks left by vaccination or the lesions of Kaposi's sarcoma. Badges of progress. Signs.

Earlier in the novel:

I've always wanted to be a sailor.

The demand for an adequate mode of expression is senseless. Then why is there this searching for an adequate mode of expression? Was I searching for a social and political paradise? Since all acts, including expressive acts, are inter-dependent, paradise cannot be an absolute. Theory doesn't work.

Theory might play. Like a drunken sailor.

And so for day 227

An old view of multi-tasking

A brief glimpse of another way of life from Bruce G. Trigger The Huron: Farmers of the North

Although fish and game were caught along the way, the Huron traveler carried a supply of cornmeal with him, as well as a clay pot that at various times was used to bail out the canoe, cook meals, and to urinate so as not to upset the canoe.

The meals were not cooked in the canoe. *smile*

And so for day 226

Proving Patient

Patricia Meyer Spacks in Boredom references

Adam Phillips, discussing boredom as a possible "developmental achievement" for children, observes that "it is one of the most oppressive demands of adults that the child should be interested. ... Boredom is integral to the process of taking one's time." [ellipsis in Spacks]

The reference is to Adam Phillips On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life.

Into these considerations one might introduce a nuance and contrast being bored by with being bored with. Boredom in the company of others and boredom by oneself, in either case the cure may not be to recapture one's time but to arrive at an understanding of time as not being a possession but a frame, that is to truly take one's time is to go slow.

Boredom signals a shift in attention regardless of one's relation, possessive or otherwise, to time. To sink into the boredom and appreciate its charms is indeed to go slow.

And so for day 225

Ways of Observing

Julia Kristeva in the novel The Samurai has a character, Olga, describe in a commentary on the novel, Exodus, of another character, Sinteuil. I like how the simple tricolon is made to house an abundance.

Sinteuil saw a letter as a plastic image; a syllable as a symphony, and meaning as a torrent of sexual, political, and moral allusions.

Barbara Bray's translation is felicitous. A lot hangs on the simple verb to see.

And so for day 224


In the translation by M. K. Fisher, Brillat-Savarin gives this enumeration of the qualities of a great chef

By a natural consequence, those who presided over the preparations for these great feasts became men of note, which was reasonable enough, for they needed to combine within themselves a variety of qualities: inventive genius, the knowledge of organization, a sense of proportion, firmness enough to exact obedience from their helpers, and unfailing promptness in every detail, so that nothing might be late.

I wonder just how stretched an analogy can be fashioned between these qualities and those of the serial writer, i.e. blogger. Everything fits except the notion that something can arrive late — in the long tail there is an ever present now.

And so for day 223

Learning languages and games of self-construction

Juxtaposing the passage about language [langue] minus speech [parole] from Roland Barthes as translated by Annette Lavers and Colin Smith in Elements of Semiology

Moreover, this social product is autonomous, like a game with its own rules, for it can be handled only after a period of learning.

with a passage from Stephen Batchelor from Buddhism Without Beliefs

Who "I am" appears coherent only because of the monologue we keep repeating, editing, censoring, and embellishing in our heads.

and through mindful attentiveness and we observe that the sentence quoted above is preceded by this one

And instead of a coherent personality that stretches back in an unbroken line to a first memory and looks forward to an indefinite future, we discover a self ridden with gaps and ambiguities. Who "I am" appears [...]

If there is a game in which one manages the pauses and the breaks, it is worth learning. Meditation as game. Gaming as language learning. Skipping along.

And so for day 222

Order disorder

In the Brick issue from Winter 2004, comes this lovely and instructive anecdote by Simon McBurney. The context is the conclusion of a Japanese tea ceremony.

When it is over and after an hour of kneeling on the matting, however, I decide to skip the next bit of formality. The sequence is about how one should stand at the end of the tea ceremony. I have been told to bring my left foot slowly forward, place it in front of me, wait, then do the some with my right foot before I stand. But I can't be bothered, no one is watching, it is so much easier to stand directly, and I am dying for a pee. But as I try to stand, my legs buckle and I fall forward, spilling tea and tray over the straw matting. Everyone breaks into peals of laughter.

Stand in order; there is no blood in the legs after kneeling, says the tea master through his hilarity.

The order of gestures functions like a mnemonic. The same gestures repeated over and over become ingrained and graceful.

I kneel and begin again as I am instructed, and I find I can now stand with ease. And then I understand. the sequence is the thing. The order is all.

And so for day 221

Mental and Manual

The key move in this sentence from Boris Rybak Anachroniques is the coinage of the term "psycho-manuel".

La recherche scientifique est une mobilisation psycho-manuelle constante du chercheur

Scientific research is constant mobilization of the researcher's mental and manual faculties

"Psycho-motor" is an alternative way of capturing the imaginative and cognitive work that goes hand-in-hand, so to say, with physical activity.

Elsewhere in the same collection of reviews Rybak remarks upon the import of the hand for humans as a species:

Cette conscience, prolongée par un organe polyvalent, la main, fait que non seulement Homo sapience est capable d'une activité réfléchie, qui le mène à poser notamment le problème de sa signification et de celle du monde, mais aussi d'une activité créatrice concrète. [...] c'est ce qui rend unique la position d'Homo sapiencs et donne sa grandeur à son psychisme créateur.

I like the description of the multi-valued (polyvalent) hand as connected with reasoning power and both combine to provide the essence of Homo sapiens as a thinking-creating being.

And so for day 220

Aleatory Listening for the Random

In the concluding indictment of technocracy in the Appendix to The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition Theodore Rosazk documents a way of listening to music generated by chance operations.

Where moral discrimination is concerned, the scientific and technical mandarins of the technocracy operate not very differently from the composer of chance music who offers us a chaos of sound: if we do not like what we hear, we need only wait a little longer. Eventually ... eventually ... there will come a concatenation of noises that charms our taste. At that point, presumably, the score as a whole is vindicated.

The ostensible target ("the lowest conceivable level of moral discourse: ex post facto tabulation and averaging within a context of randomized human conduct") seems to me far from the spirit of listening to the music generated by chance operations. I'm not sure how averaging and waiting are analogous. Furthermore, there is a difference between the music of chance and chance music. There is a difference in being intent on seizing the musical moment that comes to one by chance (chance music) and being attentive to the music of chance. To observe the random is indeed to test the limits of attention. The not-pattern is demanding.

The two ways of listening or observing are not mutually exclusive. The random inhabits at some level of granularity the patterns we perceive. Take for example, the lovely cover art by Daniel Schwartz to the Doubleday Anchor Book edition of Rosazk's provocative book.


Figures on a ground, yes. Pigment and texture, yes. The random is at hand in the specificity of the material. To listen to the environment and the flow is to find at hand the specificity of the random. The very point that Rosazk is trying to make (respect for the specific, the unaveraged conduct) gets lost in the vehement concentration on the event to come "eventually". It is not easy to listen as if each moment is eventful. And yet perhaps it is too easy.

And so for day 219

Ludology Lessons

One of the best explanations of the relations between narration and narrated (I avoid the term "narrative" which in some usage conflates or overlooks the distinction between the telling and the told.) is to be in Edmund White's biography of Jean Genet.

The usual form/content dichotomy for analyzing fiction is not very useful then, since the formal excitement is induced precisely by our shifting sympathies for Genet as narrator and for Genet's ideas and characters. But the distinction between 'story' and 'plot' might serve us better. The 'story' is the simplest, most straightforward reconstruction of the unadorned events, told chronologically; the story as you might recount to a friend after you read the book. The 'plot', on the other hand, is the author's often indirect and non-sequential method of presenting the narrative, his way of distorting chronology or moulding sympathies or even deliberately misleading the reader for strictly artistic reasons. Genet's 'story' is often confused, even effaced, but his 'plot' is an efficient machine for manipulating the reader's responses.

By analogy I like to argue that ludology can learn from narratology that to play a match is not necessarily to know a game.

And so for day 218

Physiology of Enthusiasm

I like to juxtapose this character-focalized definition of eroticism as "a collusion of rhythms" [I think it's "collusion" and not "collision"] from Julia Kristeva's novel The Samurai with this excerpt from the chapter "Prophet Dances" in Alice Beck Kehoe's book, The Ghost Dance: ethnohistory and revitalization

Some of the parallels between Christian and American Indian religious behavior go deep into human physiology. Building up rhythm and loudness of speech from slow and soft to fast and loud tends to catch listeners up, their own heartbeats increasing in rapidity along with the speech rhythm to produce a feeling of excitement. [...] Gestures may focus listener's attention on the speaker to the point where the audience is almost hypnotized. Changing the pitch of voice, now high, now deep, induces subconscious mood changes in listeners. Frenzied dancing tends to induce hyperventilation and cause that mental dissociation we term trance. These basic human physiological responses are likely to have been independently discovered in many societies and also to have facilitated borrowings of rituals from culture to culture. Thus human physiology makes it probable that societies will discover and institutionalize "enthusiast" behavior.

Metaerotics automagically!

And so for day 217

Modes of forgetfulness

Anne Galloway author of Purse Lips Square Jaw rifts on the fashioning of forgetfulness. (And I forget in which entry or at what date)

When I was at UbiComp, surrounded by examples of ubiquitous and merciless memory, I again wondered about the differences between dementia (as forced forgetfulness), nostalgia (as voluntary forgetfulness) and hope (as necessary forgetfulness).

The strength of the truism becomes apparent if you substitute "memory" for "forgetfulness": memories forcing themselves through the body in dementia; memories picked through at will in the sad movements of nostalgia and the necessary memory that connects the sad and the mad with the gay.

And so for day 216

Cures and Curiosity

Source: Espen Anderson "The S-Curves of Sinks, and Technology"
Ubiquity, Volume 6, Issue 19 (June 1-8 2005)

Dorothy Parker said: "The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." The problem is that not enough people suffer from curiosity, but instead accept the world as it is, without wondering (and, eventually, learning) how it really works. That being said, my wife has a knitting machine, and I cannot for the life of me figure out how it works [...]

The balance and decorum make this self-deprecating anecdote engaging. Its construction values curiosity without turning towards more curiosity as a panacea. There is no cure for there is no end of objects, technologies and entities that perk interest.

And so for day 215

Ditty for the Digital Age

Somewhere somehow this crossed one of the screens upon which my attention was attached for a moment:

Information is not knowledge.
Knowledge is not wisdom.
Wisdom is not truth.
Truth is not beauty.
Beauty is not love.
Love is not music.
Music is the best.

Frank Zappa "Packard Goose". Just what is it that music possesses or gives? All of the above but at various times and in various degrees.

And so for day 214


Thinking of vacations ...

Until all employees are deemed replaceable, some are deemed disposable.

I wonder if economists tote up the true expesne of all those indispensable people.

And so for day 213

Yogurt Yoga and Contortions

Gayl Jones has a narrator in Mosquito do some neat twists and turns with language, all in a particular voice.

[...] less they thinks everybody got the dextrosity, I means dexterity, of them circus jugglers. Or what them other circus creatures? Not them acrobats. Them contortionists. They think everybody got the dextrosity and dexterity of them contortionists. Well, I guess them contortionists they supposed to be acrobats too, but they seem more extraordinary then them ordinary acrobats. Or like them that do that yoga. Like my friend Delgadina she do that yoga. She say that yoga ain't just exercise, it a whole philosophy. Be saying there's different types of yoga. Not that yogurt, 'cause that yoga and that yogurt do got the same sound to them and a lot of the peoples that does that yoga eats that yogurt. Ain't just the countercultural neither, lie it usedta be. That yoga and that yogurt is mainstream today. Them yoga postures only makes you look like you's a contortionist, but you ain't a true contortionist.

Again that voice, most particular.

And so for day 212

Misplaced Miser

"Eyes of Flesh, Eyes of Fire" Chapter VIII of Theodore Rosack's The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition has a wonder piece of rhetoric that employs the commonplace of not seeing the forest for the trees. It's a rift that pits attention to detail against the whole view and for this reason ultimately fails to convince.

And, after a fashion, we do learn things by treating the world objectively. We learn what one learns by scrutinizing the trees and ignoring the forest, by scrutinizing the cells and ignoring the organism, by scrutinizing the detailed minutiae of experience and ignoring the whole that gives the constituent parts their greater meaning. In this way we become ever more learnedly stupid. Our experience dissolves into a congeries of isolated puzzles, loosing its overall grandeur. We accumulate knowledge like the miser who interprets wealth as maniacal acquisition plus tenacious position; but we bankrupt our capacity to be wonder struck ... perhaps even to survive. [ellipsis in original]

The miser figure rings true but the passage fails to persuasively link accumulation with attention to detail. A tadpole can be as amazing as a whole wetland.

And so for day 211


"Technocracy's Children" Chapter I of Theodore Rosack's The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition a portion of which first published in The Nation in 1968 brings to the fore a very important keyword: maldistribution

Because we have an economy of cybernated abundance that does not need their labor, that is rapidly severing the tie between work and wages, that suffers from hard-core poverty due to maldistribution, not scarcity. From this point of view, why is the voluntary dropping-out of the hip young any more "parasitic" than the enforced dropping-out of impoverished ghetto dwellers?

Rosack goes on to ask the pertinent question:

The economy can do abundantly without all this labor. How better, then to spend our affluence than on those minimal goods and services that will support leisure for as many of us as possible?

"Maldistribution" is a keyword that sets in train a very important set of questions.

And so for day 210

Hate, really?

February 2007 The Walrus Kay Armatage "Gertrude Stein's Radical Grammar"

The publishers do a disservice to the argument and the facts put forth by asserting in the table of contents that the article is about "Why Gertrude Stein hated commas". She didn’t. She was indifferent to them.

And, as the Poetry and Grammar lecture which Armatage draws upon indicates, she, that is Stein, used them, that is commas, to great effect. My favourite Stein comma passage is from A Novel of Thank You.

She find it just as easy she find it just as easy, she finds it just as easy.

There in that context is the theme of ease in relation to the mark of punctuation, a theme ever so similar to the comma remarks in Poetry and Grammar.

And so, as Armatage leaves readers with a question and a set of observations:

I don’t feel as strongly about commas as Stein did, and who can, really? And there’s the dreaded question mark.

I leave you with a question: can one have a strong feeling of indifference? Yes, I suppose, if one is a very strong anyone.

And so for day 209

Recollecting collections

R. Rawdon Wilson, In Palamedes' Shadow: Explorations in Play, Game, and Narrative Theory (1990) p. 168

Indeed, to understand one such collection may make the others tenuous: their boundaries, to use one of Derrida's images, may begin to tremble. The tenuousness and uncertainty of boundaries are, always and already, implicit in the notion of a collection.

The tenuousness is not a question of completion.

What I gather is what I have gathered including the wish for the collectible which is not yet collected. What I have gathered contains a history of accessions. The wish and the history are not always accessible.

And so for day 208

Just a Job

A brief passage from Pat Cadigan Tea from an Empty Cup
(1998) offers a view of game environments and their attractions.

The guitar-player smiled. "What you want is simple. All you had to do was state it in the proper place at the proper moment. In the proper form, of course. That's just elementary programming."

"Programming," Konstantin said, giving a short, not terribly merry laugh. "I should have known. You're the locator utility and the help utility, aren't you?"

"Avatar of both, but yeah, that's about what it comes down to," he said agreeably.

"And I only had to ask."

"[...] The usual players don't want anything so simple. The usual players come down here to look for the secret subroutine to the Next Big Scene, or even the mythical Out Door. Then my job becomes something different. Then my job is to give them a little thrill here and there, play to their curiosities and their fondest wishes and desires, without actually promising anything impossible to deliver. "

"But still making them spend more billable hours."

"The more hours people spend in here doing complicated things, the more interesting the Sitty becomes for everyone."

"Why don't you just tell people that, then? [...]"

"It's not my job to explain the business plan. It's my job to answer questions. I can only answer what I know. [...] I'm a utility avatar, I wasn't created to determine whether my universe is finite or not."

RTFM re-expanded euphemistcally: Remember to Find Manual

Time, person, place. One wonders if programming and scripting will or have given rise to neocasuistry.

And so for day 207

Sinuous Sentence

Patricia Meyer Spacks from Boredom

Examining them [literary and cultural works] under the rubric of boredom reveals surprising connections among them and uncovers unpredictable animating energies.

A story of research and discovery is recapitulated in those unpredictable animating energies uncovered.

And so for day 206

Flowers, an economy of legacies

Julia Kristeva in The Samurai translated by Barbara Bray rewards the reader who remembers to note the flowers. Observe first the father-in-law of a character named Olga:

Jean de Montlaur loved gardening after Gérard had done the heavy work: trimming the drooping rose bushes; watering the earth around the daisies in order to inhale the spicy scent they gave off when their thirst was slaked; cutting stems of mallows and hollyhocks for Olga to remove the blossoms and float them — like fishes suddenly set free — in the large porcelain bowls in the drawing room.

And pages and pages later, without floral description, is the description of the post-humous grandchild, Olga's son, at play in the Luxembourg gardens and oblivious to the statuary:

Alex saw nothing of this gallery of sovereigns, which intrigued only his mother: it was the smell of the petunias — an almost imperceptible mixture of milk and honey, with an afterthought of poppy — that intoxicated and enticed him. Suddenly he let go of the stroller he was pushing along all by himself and plunged across the grass toward the flower beds to pick some of the dark pink and purple trumpets.

"Come here, Alex — it's not allowed!"

Olga tried to catch him, but her son had already managed to grab a handful of what he wanted before starting back and falling down on the gravel. His knees were scraped, but his eye was triumphant.

Presiding over the antics of the child is the effigy of another Laure. The last statue to occupy the mother's attention before the son's dash for the petunias harkens of an overdetermination:

Nearby the royal series gives way to Laure de Noves, most mysterious of women, ancestress of the marquis de Sade, with the serene grace of a woman who knows she is loved, a page of Petrarch inevitably in her hand, a lyrical eye bent on the dead leaves.

Alex saw nothing of the gallery of sovereigns. Not just the royals but the sovereigns, the other subjects. He is his own person.

And so for day 205


A character created by Julia Kristeva in The Samurai translated by Barbara Bray takes a look at some fascinating people:

Olga put the camera down and looked at them affectionately. These feverish intellectuals were infectious. They were restless. Accelerated particles. They talked about time in terms either of seconds, minutes, and hours or of years, decades, and centuries. As if they were living out of time, for real time is made up of days, nights, months, and seasons. Their time was either minute or infinite, and it was from that position that they rebelled against all the rest, against time as seen by the conformists.

As can be expected in the cross-over land that is a novel, the positions of conformist and rebel can be switched. Given the provocative event characters are lifted out of time, for a time.

And so for day 204

Imagination au pouvoir; pouvoirs d'imagination


Abbie Hoffman, Woodstock Nation: A talk-rock album "Thorns of the Flower Children" begins thus:

Once upon a time, about a generation ago, right after the thirteen-thousand-seven-hundred-and-sixty-fourth demonstration against the war in Vietnam, young people started to congregate in an area of San Francisco known as the Haight-Ashbury. They were sick of being programmed by an educational system void of excitement, creativity and sensuality.

Good beginning for myth making. The accompanying illustration places the thorns in a crown and a necklace on a figure with waves and waves of hair. There is a way of thinking of the thorns less as adornment and more as progeny.


And so for day 203

Oink Omission

Liner notes to a Compact Disc (1994 Berlin Classics 0011132BC) - compositions by Sofia Gubaidulina.

Pierre Odinst translates Micheal Struck-Schloen's text with the reference to the Bajan also known as the Schweinsorgel into French as baïan also know as l'orgue aux cochons. Bernd Zöllner gives the English bayan but omits the reference to pigs. I wonder if "hog's box" by analogy with "squeeze box" would do? At least no inadvertent allusion to innards ensues (pig's organ).

And so for day 202

Readers, Intergenerational

A photograph by Sidney Weaver adorns the back dust jacket of 1968 Citadel publication of Secrets of the British Museum by Peter Fryer (originally published as Private Case — Public Scandal 1966)

It is a touching photograph which given the context is a tad subversive. The photograph depicts an adult and child with an open book in front of them. I like its appeal given that it adorns a book presented as "a revealing account of the classic works of erotica kept under lock and key in the British Museum". It illustrates well the concluding sentence in the "About the Author" description on the inner panel of the dust jacket: "Peter Fryer is married and has two children." Solid credentials for the author of an anti-censorship tract. Simply disarming.

And so for day 201

Timbre, Smile-Stamped

Of the many facts found in Angus Tremble's introduction to A Brief History of the Smile this one makes me close my eyes and listen and attempt to project myself into a different sensory experience of the world.

Blind people are keenly aware of the change of timbre that may be detected in the voice of a smiling interlocutor. Many of us can tell when a person at the other end of the telephone is distracted by something funny but gamely tries to continue an otherwise serious conversation. Smiling changes the sound of the voice no less than the shape of the mouth.

No thanks to the publisher who after the addition of the "Preface to the Paperback Edition" did not repaginate the front matter[two prefaces and the introduction] numbered with Roman numerals to align properly with the endnotes, one is able to find a reference for further exploration.

"blind people": See, for example, "Anecdotes of the Life of Mademoiselle de Salignac, A Blind French Lady," in Wilson, J. (1821/1995). Biography of the Blind ..., edited by K. Stuckey, Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, pp. 457.462.

Worth a little experiment with recording equipment ...

And so for day 200

Broken Circles, Scattered Pearls

A passage from Edmund Gosse on Swinburne's compositional technique offers some alternative vocabulary to the nodes and webs of hypertext. From Aspects and Impressions

It may be observed that Dolores is a rosary of stanza-beads on an invisible string; in other words, that the string might be broken, the beads shaken together, and the stanzas arranged in an entirely new sequence, without any injury to the effect of the poem [...] It is now clear that Swinburne forged his brilliant Dryden-like couplets as though each one were a stanza, and practically treated them as bits of mosaic to be fitted, in cooler blood, into a scheme not present to his mind when his inspiration seized him.

Ironically I transcribed this passage while listening to recordings of Indian music that include ghazals — a form if I recall correctly where couplets can tumble their order.

And so for day 199