When I was teaching French I used to gather bilingual copy in an attempt to inculcate in students an appreciation for the well-turned phrase. A wrapper of Christie Premium Plus Biscuits/Crackers supplied me with this lovely pairing which comes across as a wee bit of bilingual verse.

Humpty Dumpty offers in English:
Old Fashion Style
which in French runs with a claim of no better than
à L'ancienne
And of course I love to pull up examples of unilingual feats — "S'il-vous-poulet!" from advertising copy from the poultry marketing board appearing in the March 1, 1990 edition of L'Actualité. It's a play on words likely to appeal not just to the beginning student of French but to anyone with a taste for the smart line.

And so for day 749

Teeth Skin Suitcases

In what maybe a rejoinder to Ovid's Metamorphoses, Sandra Kasturi under the guise of a character looking back upon his career offers us this lovely set of verses

Dragon's teeth
sown in our backyard
produced such an inundation
of small, fat iguanas
that Mother and Father
had several suitcases made.
The title "Cadmus Reminisces" sets the tone and the whole collection The Animal Bridegroom has more wry moments including "The Fisherman's Wife Revisited".

And so for day 748

Circle Figure

Who you hold hands with influences your experience of the circle.

The hermeneutical analysis of the interrelation of literary understanding and historical understanding follows from and encapsulates the arguments of previous chapters for the essential interconnection of understanding, interpretation, and criticism. Poetic truth is interpretive truth in the sense that the work has to be brought into an interpretation even to be understood. This movement raises the danger of relativism, the possibility that anything at all can be read into the text. Therefore criticism of the interpretation and its validity and legitimacy must be possible. But criticism is possible only if the understanding of the text is interpretive (if the one right understanding of the text were immediately given, criticism of the understanding would not be necessary or even possible.) To understand how the text has been intepreted, the understanding that conditioned the interpretation must be examined; understanding of the text is also self-understanding. But such self-understanding is always interpretive, since one can never completely objectify oneself.
In this case we have been holding hands with David Couzens Hoy through the opening paragraph of "Literary History and the Interpretative Circle: A Synopsis" which is the concluding section to his The Critical Circle: Literature, History, and Philosophical Hermeneutics.

And so for day 747

Botany Lesson

Richelle Kosar has her narrator who displays a penchant for descriptions of fragrance describe one particular morning.

The next morning I walked in the white garden, sipping a cup of coffee. The sunlight was bright [...] Light was sparkling on the edge of my white cup. I put my face down to inhale the steamy aroma. I could smell the flowers too, tea roses, white narcissi, daisies, nicotiana, sweet alyssum, and the rich, loamy earth they sprang from.
Quiz: do these flowers all bloom at the same time? Do we have a reliable narrator? Something odd can happen to time sense in a novel that is bookended by a prologue and an epilogue given over to moments lifted out of time and inscribed in dream-like sequences tapped to the rhythms of The Drum King.

And so for day 746

Leaf Note Drop

Mark Truscott in a sequence from Said Like Reeds Or Things entitled "IT WAS" conducts the reader on a tour of what can be accomplished by small incremental changes coupled with tactical page-turning. The poetic sequence is printed towards the bottom of the page over a number of pages — it has a lot of white space working through this layout. Let us start in media res on page 73 appears a single suggestive word.

And then on page 74.
The heat.
A hat.
Note the dropped "e". And then on page 75.
The note.
The knot.
Again a dropped "e" but an added consonant. And then on page 76, the sequence is in a sense "restored" with simple dropped "e" (if one remembers the move) and no additional consonant (indeed almost a negation of that additional "k").
A not.
And the sequence ends on page 77
It seemed this was it.
And then there is the attention that can be paid to the alternations of definite ("the") and indefinite ("a") articles. That's it. Almost, There is more to grasp in all the leaves: it so happens that pages 75 and 76 are in recto and verso position to each other i.e. on the two sides of the same leaf one finds the "not" of "knot".

And so for day 745


The authors in an ironic twist name the chapter where this report on the aftermath of the sole encounter between Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein "Clearing Up the Muddle", ironic because they strategically position the occupation of identifying muddles by quoting from the minutes of the Cambridge Moral Sciences Club (MSC).

Rubbish or not, Wittgenstein apparently felt the need to reply to Popper's arguments at the meeting of the MSC three weeks later. "Prof. Wittgenstein's main aim", say the minutes, "was to correct some misunderstandings about philosophy as practised by the Cambridge school (i.e. by Wittgenstein himself)." And the minutes also record Wittgenstein's assertion that "the general form of a philosophical question is 'I am in a muddle; I don't know my way.'"
A point truly not lost on the reader of Wittgenstein's Poker by David Edmonds and John Eidinow.

And so for day 744

Clatter and Buried Melodies

From a description of vibraphonist Gary Burton published in TED 9 (Teaching, Entertainment, Design) Fast Company, 1999, an apology for music

Burton believes the pleasure of music has a formative impact on the brain. In a sense, entertainment is education. It helps a child grow. At certain early ages, Burton says, the playing of musical instruments can awaken certain neural pathways in the brain to a new level of intelligence and dexterity — physical, emotional, and intellectual. "Musical information is deeply embedded in the brain," he says. "Alzheimer's patients, long after they have forgotten faces and names, can still sing songs they learned as children."
I think there is a bit of slippage here between learning to play an instrument and recalling songs. The level of engagement of mind and body, I would presume, is greater in learning to play an instrument than in simply learning how to sing a song. I may be wrong. However, the point that Burton is making need not be embellished by recourse to brain talk and chatter about neural pathways. Simple to state that learning to play music enables physical, emotional and intellectual dexterity.

And so for day 743

Avian Perspective

Richelle Kosar in her novel The Drum King has her narrator-protagonist observe the birds:

Gulls were circling across the radiant clouds with wild, faraway cries. It struck me how beautiful and graceful they appeared at a distance; you could almost forget how ugly and aggressive they became when they were up close squawking and trying to snatch a piece of your sandwich. If they always remained remote they might be legendary creatures, symbolic of freedom, mystery and romance.
Quite in keeping with the character that a good measure of distance offers a favourable judgement.

And so for day 742


In Jack Vance's 1978 sci-fi novel Wyst: Alastor 1716 we are treated to descriptions of Arrabus on the planet Wyst which is an "egalistic" nation. Our protagonist, a visitor to this world and nation, is in conversation with the alluring Kedidah who explains why she is considered by some as a sexivator

"Oh — I don't really know [why]. I like to tease and play. I arrange my hair to suit my mood. I like men to like me and I'm not concerned about women.
At this point a footnote reads:
*A more or less accurate paraphrase. The Arrabin dialect avoids distinction of gender. Masculine and feminine pronouns are suppressed in favor of the neutral pronoun. "Parent" replaces "mother" and "father"; "sibling" serves for both "brother" and "sister." When the distinctions must be made, as in the conversation transcribed above, colloquialisms are used, almost brutally offensive in literal translation, reference being made to the genital organs.
So by a form of back translation (the use of genital-specific "cock" and "cunt") the heteronormative tumbles out as one specific possibility — the coarseness of the language making it evident that other combinations can exist. The lack of their expression may be entirely due to the proclivities of the characters through which the narrative is focalized. Someone could borrow the world and write the unsaid.

And so for day 741

To Promise a Promise

Mark Truscott is an accomplished poet who in minimalist terms reminds us of just how friable everyday experience can be. It escapes. Consider this sequence from "LIFESTYLES" in Said Like Reeds or Things.

To consider and the majority
are involuntary

To glance and the surface
is flavourless

To count and the credit
is insoluble
The succession of infinitives offer a hint of some transitive completeness to come and what follows crumbles. A rare talent to pull it off and keep the reader interested.

And so for day 740

Rhetoric of Refutation

There is a certain pleasure in reading Hilary Putnam that is unrelated to the unfolding of the argument. It is found in the little asides that connive to bring the reader into the game. Take for instance the sly stab:

[...] but a mere restatement of a fact in a special jargon cannot claim to be an explanation of that fact.
And latter there is a full and vigourous use of hyphen to dare a challenge:
[...] is to say that we-know-not-what does we-know-not-what when we-know-not-what has happened!
And the most companionable merriment:
If I have taken Jaegwon Kim as my opponent of choice throughout these lectures (this is perhaps needless to say — but let me say it once again, nevertheless!), it is for two reasons: because his presentation of the arguments I have been discussing is the one I have found by far the most challenging and because of my admiration for his philosophical intelligence and the purity of his philosophical motivation. The only thing that could, indeed, make my admiration for Jaegwon Kim even greater would be for him now to concede that my view is the right one!
In among the final words is a type of exhortation (without exclamation!): "Many things deserve our wonder, but the formulation of an intelligible question requires more than wonder." All the quotations from Putnam are drawn from The Threefold Cord: Mind, Body and World.

And so for day 739

Transduction and Assemblages

I've quoted this before but my commentary there remains rather lapidary ("Will to do. Makes do.") and so here again is Adrian Mackenzie. "Transduction: invention, innovation and collective life" (2003)

Technological change is consistently and emphatically represented in the form of new artefacts or objects, rather than practices, arrangements and ensembles. The focus is usually fixed on new and highly commodified objects such as digital new media or biotechnologies, rather than the process or events which permit certain objects to materialize or solidify and not others.
This may be less and less true as we move into emergence of networked culture. And even less true in the spaces where time stamps are manipulated and the long tail inhabited to produce odd déjà-vu moments of fictive prediction and spaces that escape trending.

And so for day 738

Gather ye Poesies

Terry Pratchett has invented a most marvellous entity call L-Space. Its properties are magical and of course textual.

Even big collections of ordinary books distort space and time, as can readily be proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned second-hand bookshop, one of those that has more staircases than storeys and those rows of shelves that end in little doors that are surely too small for a full sized human to enter. (from Discworld Companion)
I found myself reflecting upon this construction when I came upon Susan Drodge's review of several books of poetry (Canadian Literature 165 (2000) pp. 122-125). I had come there looking for commentary on Mary di Michelle's Debriefing the Rose and found, among other offerings, a peak at the poetry of Liliane Welch from Dream Museum (Sono Nis Press) and the following lines from the poem "Afternoon at Namurs"
She was still young,
in her late twenties
when she put on weight.
Did she simply open
the doors of her mind
to the melodies of cakes?
What a lovely question. I can now dream of petits fours and madeleines... and imagine that I am opening my mind

And so for day 737

Descriptions as Constructions

William Gass. "Philosophy and the Form of Fiction" collected in Fiction and the Figures of Life.

— but strictly speaking style cannot be, itself, a kind of vision, the notion is very misleading, for we do not have before us some real forest which we might feel ourselves free to render in any number of different ways; we have only the words which make up this one. There are no descriptions in fiction, there are only constructions.
By a neat trick of succession, the author makes us reflect upon what it means to perceive the world. It never is unmediated.

And so for day 736

Violin Lust

Joseph Curtin. "Stradivari's Varnish: A Memoir" in Brick 74 (Winter 2004) enumerates a number of reactions

The sheer physical beauty of a great Italian violin excites all sorts of desires in all kinds of people. Violinists want to play them, museums to lock them in climate-controlled display cases, dealers to sell them for fabulous sums, collectors to acquire them for undisclosed sums, and violin makers to build copies that will fool all the above.
And the hero of this story is the fool-maker.

And so for day 735

Eat Your Vegetables

Daring you to call this a category mistake.

A chicken is like a pig because it's not a cow.
A statement worthy of a committed carnivore.

And so for day 734

A Job Well Done

Edmund White's The Burning Library contains "Nabokov: Beyond Parody". It is a literary essay well worth an extensive visit (for the particular relation plot and language have with one another).

The function of mythology in Nabokov is not (as it is in Joyce's Ulysses) to limit the neural sprawl of a stream of consciousness. Nor is it to provide a ready-made plot (as in the neoclassical drama of Anouilh or Giraudoux). Nor is it to lend false dignity to an othewise dreary tale, as in the plays of Archibald MacLeish or Eugene O'Neill. In Nabokov the vocabulary of religion, fairy tales, and myths is the only one adequate to his sense of the beauty and mystery of the sensual, of love, of childhood, of nature, of art, of people when they are noble. It is this language that metamorphoses the comic bedroom scene in Lolita into a glimpse of paradise. [quotation from the novel] Nabokov's novels are not of this world, but of a better one. He has kept the romantic novel alive by introducing into it a new tension — the struggle between obsessive or demented characters and a-seraphic rhetoric. Given his inspired style, no wonder Nabokov chose to write about not the species nor the variety but the mutant individual. Only such a subject gives his radiant language something to do, to overcome — a job to perform.
And well done too White's felicitous enumerations &mdash the pile-up is joyous. I am intrigued as to what an "a-seraphic rhetoric" might be. Heavenly angel-less prose?

And so for day 733

Islamic Ghandis

The venue for this was a posting to the McLuhan discussion list (Sept. 24, 2001). Very much in the vein of a McLuhanesque probe.

Do you know of anyone who can verify reports that Islamic pacifists are calling for the withdrawal of Arab capital from Western banks in order to cut funds to terrorists?

Islam forbids usury. At one time Christianity did too.

Do you know of any academic paper discussing Islamic banking and the IMF?

Do you know anyone who can verify reports of Islamic and other pacifists lining up at police stations and consulates around the world to ask for the disclosure of the financial connections of terrorist suspects?

"It may seem like another lifetime, but it's actually only a year ago that the conservative business magazine The Economist published an editorial saying that the most pressing moral, political and economic issue of our time is Third World poverty." Linda McQuaig, National Post Sept. 24/01
The discourse of policy makers and politicians may yet turn to income inequality and its drag on the world economy.

And so for day 732

Catch Up Determinism

The narrator in Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko muses on the nature of grand narrative:

No matter what you or anyone else did, Marx said, history would catch up with you; it was inevitable, it was relentless. The turning, the changing were inevitable.

The old people had stories that said much the same, that it was only a matter of time and things European would gradually fade from the American continents. History would catch up with the white man whether the Indians did anything or not. History was the sacred text. The most complete history was the most powerful force.
The question is who gets to tell the complete history — no teller I know has that kind of grasp. But what of a history woven from many tellings?

On re-reading, I note that it is "things European" that are slated to disappear. Not persons. And so I am made to recall The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury and the presence of a similar trope at play. See especially the concluding chapter "The Million-Year Picnic". But that too is a partial history and whole fiction.

And so for day 731

Shape Trembling

Back in '98 I sent this quotation to a friend with a keen interest in Ovid and the Metamorphoses.

And though shapes change, though each moment dies into the next, though no thing is being made to last, something is happening. Each moment bears life forward.
Mary Caroline Richards. Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person. (Wesleyan University Press, 1964)

And so for day 730

Reading Rebooted

Oracular exhortation by Michael Joyce.

We can re-embody reading if we see that the network is ours to inhabit. There are no technologies without humanities; tools are human structures and modalities.
Notes Toward an Unwritten Non-Linear Electronic Text, "The Ends of Print Culture" (a work in progress) Postmodern Culture Volume 2, Number 1, September 1991

And so for day 729

New Clarifications

I suspect this was writing while participating in Fadi Abou-Rihan's seminar on Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus. Jaspers on Kant i.e. synthetic versus analytic judgements. Introducing the quotation, I wrote at the time that "I think that this distinction may help with explicating the empiricity of Oedipus."

Analytic judgements are present in thinking apart from experience, where we discern nothing new and merely clarify things that were known unclearly. Synthetic judgements, on the other hand, are present in all our empirical knowledge. By perception and observation we find out what belongs together, what follows what."
I have in my print out of this quotation an arrow sketched in pencil and leading to this statement (also in pencil): narrativity passes through perception. And then back to the thread (my previous comment on the quotation is typewritten): "The question may then become one of whether Oedipus is a product of a synthetic a posterieri judgement. Then how does one move to the universality of Oedipus (or any given structure) as a product of a synthetic a priori judgement."

Scrawled along the bottom of this prose are two lines in a large and generous hand:
The marker of novelty
new vs clarification
Interesting re-juxtaposition of terms. [Not a single question mark dots the page of this relentless questioning].

And so for day 728

Gift of Navigation

Michael Riordon in fine form in the preface to Eating Fire: family life, on the queer side

We live in a relational universe. [...] Moving through our lives, we define ourselves not only as the insular I, but in relation to others: parent, friend, teacher, priest, lover, nurse, cop, boss, and all the rest. To navigate this crowded landscape, but without the usual map, we queer folk have to improvise as we go. This is a gift, and one of our talents.
Gotta love those italics. Is ours.

And so for day 727

Pre-machine Clues to Post-machine Experience

J. David Bolter in Turing's Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age distinguishes an epoch of tool use from one of machine use. It is useful to be reminded of such a distinction when the common discourse often conflates tools and machines. He moves from speculating about the ancients and their failure to adopt machines to a set of considerations about the imbrication of technology and world view.

[T]here was something in the world outlook of the ancients (perhaps the reliance on slavery) that kept them satisfied with traditional sources of power and did not compel them, like later Europeans, to seek to increase efficiency, invent new prime movers, and in general expand their control and domination of nature.

The result was a simple but elegant technology of the hand rather than of the machine. The ancient craftsman worked with tools that became extensions of his hands in the manipulation of his materials. There was no real mass production. Although a pottery shop in Athens might employ seventy men who worked from specified designs, each thrown pot carried to some extent the impress of the hand that made it. Also, all technical discoveries were the product of clever observation and innovation without a theoretical basis, for the relationship between science and technology, so much a part of our own industrial society, did not exist.
And one wonders what power sources will emerge in the transition to a networked culture. No telling from which quarter elegance might flow.

And so for day 726

Oscar on Absinthe

Coffee with Oscar Wilde by Merlin Holland is a lovely fictional interview. Our hero towards the end suggests a move to a more potent drink.

Do you fancy a glass of absinthe? Just one, mind you — more can be disturbing. After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.
An intriguing back-handed homage to the "fée verte" (the "green fairy"). A nice triple turn.

And so for day 725

Kindred Activities

I was no doubt thinking of thaumaturgical properties when I characterized inscription and incantation as parallel under the rubric of mobilité du signe

inscription: leaving trace

incantation: pushing out talking
When I meditate upon this further, I come to realize that "leaving trace" involves a degradation of sorts — it's a crumb, a trickle, that is left behind. I also realize that "pushing out talking" is akin to a lapsing into vocalization that may be pure sound, a set of traces.

And so for day 724

Dice Incisions

From a note dated 30/07/97

[...] highly intriguing formulation: the production of randomness in a literary (machine) text is a safeguard against entropy. In one sense this is a homeopathic theory of semiotics. A certain degree of nonsense is incorporated in a text to make it travel... self-incorporated enigmas power the vehicle... Also the invitation to play a game of chance functions as an attraction. I almost want to say that REGs [Random Event Generators] capture audiences.
By coincidence the recto of the note paper contains an earlier [17/07/97] reference to the work of Francisco Varela on emergence and enaction (See "Whence Perceptual Meaning? A Cartography of Current Ideas" in F. Varela and J.-P. Dupuy Understanding Origins: Contemporary Views on the Origin of Life, Mind, and Society)

And so for day 723

Depicting the Evolving Man

In a passage with various takes on the question "What kind of man was he?", Neil Bartlett captures the constant re-invention that inflects our lives.

When someone asks you to describe your lover, each time you give a different account. He changes slightly, you continually struggle to bring the picture into focus, to select the right medium and pigments, to say what kind of man he really is. He does the same for you.
From Who Was That Man? A Present for Mr Oscar Wilde

And so for day 722

Metaphor as Shaper

Doreen Maitre in Literature and Possible Worlds quotes Max Black

the metaphor selects, emphasises, suppresses and organises features of the principal subject by implying statements about it that normally apply to the subsidiary subject
Max Black "Metaphor" in Proceedings of Aristotelian Society Vol LV (1954-55) 273-294 reprinted in J. Maroglis (ed.) Philosophy Looks at the Arts (1962).

The paper on which this is copied out has a slip attached that suggests the that the sequence of verbs (select, emphasize, suppress, organize) should be compared with Lev Manovich Language of New Media — something which I have yet to organise myself to do.

And so for day 721

An Apology for Intellectual History

James Hoopes, editor, Sources for The New England Mind:The Seventeenth Century by Perry Miller (1981), provides in the introduction this brief characterization of Miller's position on intellectual history:

Miller was not an intellectual determinist in the sense that he believed ideas alone were important, but he was convinced that whatever order or coherence existed in human history had been supplied by the human mind. Ideas were not the only historical determinants, but social history, he argued, could not be satisfactorily understood without reference to minds that had experienced it. For those minds had not only experienced social change, they had also responded to it, and their response helped to determine succeeding developments in society as well as in thought.
Précis: Ideas matter.

And so for day 720

More Track Laying

In a previous posting, Re-creased Readings, I asked if one could not "map construction onto technology, collaboration onto body and communication on mimesis" and now I am reminded of the three types of mimesis proposed by Paul Ricoeur in Time and Narrative. In that previous posting I let sprout a fragment:

building the tool, tending to the body, managing substitutions
Lots needs to be done to "mine" the alignment with Ricoeur...

In my view the building, tending and managing alignments turn on three stages of interpretation that Ricoeur calls mimesis1 (prefiguration of the field of action), mimesis2 (configuration of the field of action), and mimesis3 (refiguration of the field of action).

Mimesis3 concerns the integration of the imaginative or “fictive” perspective offered at the level of mimesis2 into actual, lived experience.

refiguration = managing substitutions = signification
tending to the body = configuration = communication
building the tool = prefiguration = interpretation

from Caged in our own signs: a book about semiotics by Kyong Liong Kim, I pull this out of context and contrast single meaning (communication) and multiple meaning (signification) and find a place for the work of interpretation - "We should heed the possibility that the same sign can be interpreted in many different ways by different interpreters." ("interpretation is the key in signification because signification aims to evoke multiple meanings.")

And so for day 719

Routes to Expression

Educational consultant, Carmel A. Crévola has brought attention to the oral aspects of mastering language arts.

What you think, you can say.
What you say, you can write.
What you've written, you can read.
I like how in this approach the beginning can be triggered by a drawing (asking students to speak about what they have drawn) and how at the other end reading aloud returns the creator to orality.

And so for day 718


Diane Gossen in "Restitution: a way back to learning and understanding through self-respect" in Aboriginal Times (May June 2004) remarks

If you ask elders to comment on a community the worst thing they would say is that the people are having a hard time helping each other.
As a way of describing dynamics, it emphasizes collectively responsibility.

And so for day 717

The House by Robin Skelton

Quoting in full and risking copyright infringement of this poem by Robin Skelton. It opens In This Poem I Am: Selected Poetry of Robin Skelton edited by Harold Rhenisch. Very fitting for the beginning. It is entitled "The House"

This is the house
in which the words

are walls, are furniture,
are doors and cushions,

and in which the paintings,
chairs and rugs

are words, and all the words
stand in a circle

round the changing moment.
But when you enter,

opening the rhetoric
of the door,

seeing round you
vocabularies of sculpture,

libraries of sound,
do not assume

this is exclusively
a house of language;

think rather that it is
a place where love

has struggled to discover
what it means

and made these words
to hold you till it knows.
I was particularly taken by the "vocabularies of sculpture" and the "libraries of sound" and of course the final gesture of holding some one assumes beloved "you" in the matrix of the expressed.

And so for day 716

Serving to Evoke

The spirit of Rabelais lives close by ... I once signalled this passage to a colleague hinting at some parallels with Monique Wittig Les Guéllières.

The multinational Catholic army was in first-class shape. Those holy week preachers had the vigour of athletes. They wooed us little lesbians with their fatal frenzy: with snips of their scissors, tightenings of their nooses, hooks to the left eye, they made mincemeat of us. I was hamburger, tripes on the prie-dieu; there were only scraps of me left -- bits of ears, nose, and mouth. With a final stroke of a plane over my skull, they scalped me of my imagination, just to hold it up to the redskins. The preachers leaked their homicidal gases. Was there any chance at all that one day the light would shine over this enormous ratatouille, this human meatball stew, this tender nursery of epileptic babies? One after another, we submitted to the outrage, the goosings, the aggression, the rape, the promise of resurrection.
Jovette Marchessault "A Lesbian Chronicle from Medieval Quebec" from Lesbian Triptych translated by Yvonne M. Klein (Toronto, Women's Press, 1985)

And so for day 715

Public Wisdom

The 2004 Nonesuch CD notes of the 2002 recording of John Adams's On the Transmigration of Souls reproduces a 2003 Atlantic Monthly essay by David Schiff which concludes thus:

In the months that followed the catastrophe, 9/11 became a source more of civic pride than of nationalism. The heroes were policemen and firemen, not soldiers; a mayor, not a president. The names read on television and the short biographies in the Times reminded New Yorkers of their diversity and their commonality. In Transmigration, Adams breaks down the divide between the high-bourgeois culture that created orchestras like the New York Philharmonic (and the repertory they play) in the nineteenth century and the mass culture that took its place in the twentieth. He has created a music that mirrors and exalts the public wisdom.
To learn more about the composition and the composer, visit www.earbox.com

And so for day 714

What Reading Does

This set of lines is from a course description "Economies and Ecstasies: Routes Through Recent Critical Theory"

Reading takes you places.
Reading is a means of transformation.
Reading is a means of preservation.
Reading brings places to you.
Reading places you.
The last of these seems unidiomatic. There is a hint of French. "Placer quelqu'un" which is to recognize someone. Of course here there is a suggestion of wresting with a text that puts you in your place. In a less agonistic frame, reading offers you a place. It is an invitation to take up or resist.

And so for day 713

Generated Degenerating

In reading the mass of notes and musings that make up The Anti-Oedipus Papers by Félix Guattari, I come to a clearing where it begins to make sense (which is of course in Guattari's world a way station and not a final destination). I think it is the comparative framework that gives this paragraph its coherence and cogency. He is contrasting two great linguists.

For Hjelmslev, there is no interpreted system, only interpretable systems. So there is always a possible opening, a passage from non-sense to meaning [sens]. There is never any closure back onto semantic or grammatical "normality." And then there is Chomsky: the inherency, the realism of the state of a given language, the mechanism of engenderment, etc. What counts for Chomsky is for deep structures to rejoin real performances. And not for deep machines to produce non-sense, breaks and history.
In this translation by Kélina Gotman, I am particular taken by the implied syntagm: non-sense, breaks, history. It becomes almost possible to introduce a program: generate noise, cause disruption, alter history.

And so for day 712

Squiggle Jiggle

Jean Rennie Every Other Sunday: The Autobiography of a Kitchenmaid (1955). An excerpt is found in Food: An Oxford Anthology (1995) edited by Brigid Allen.

[The Chef] used to come in with the game or rabbits in his hands, throw them on the floor, and say, casually, 'To-morrow' or 'Dinner,' or 'Now.'


This Sunday morning, early in the year, he had brought the two pheasants in and thrown them on the floor and said, 'To-night.'

I'd noticed they looked rather bloated about the necks, and they had certainly hung quite a few days.

I put them on my table, and went to get some old newspapers to take the feathers, taking a few feathers off the breast first

When I got back, those pheasants had moved!

Gingerly, I pulled at those feathers on the neck, and the skin came away in my hands ...

Certainly I had seen maggots before, had even enjoyed throwing them on the hot stove and watching them wriggle before they were swept into the flames.

But this teeming, crawly heap of obscene life was something I'd never seen before, or since.
Gives new meaning to the expression "well hung."

And so for day 711

Egocentric Speech

Michael Cole. "Alexander Romanovich Luira: Cultural Psychologist" (pp. 11-28) in Contemporary Neuropsychology and the Legacy of Luria

Piaget had earlier stimulated interest in the way small children seem to talk to themselves when playing alongside other children, suggesting that this egocentric speech is a halfway house between an early autistic stage when children fail totally to consider others in the way they behave and a later time when speech becomes properly "for another" and therefore, socialized. Such speech, because it is egocentric, was thought to be functionless, a mere indicator of underlying cognitive immaturity. Luria and Vygotsky had quite the opposite view. In their opinion, egocentric speech is rather the middle stage in a transition from speech that controls another to speech that controls oneself; it is social in its origins and functional in the role it plays in helping the child to master the problem at hand.

The experimental procedure they invented in reaction to Piaget's interpretation of egocentric speech is a good example of their general methodological strategy: Children were put in problem-solving situations that were somewhat too difficult for them, and as their theory suggested it should, egocentric speech (speech not directed specifically to another), increased.
This was an immensely influtential synopsis for me. I was able to posit that people in situations of distress reach for the mechanism of egocentric speech as a coping mechanism mainly to rehearse scenarios. I was willing to wager that "Pedagogical situations are sensory. They are also interpersonal. Because they are sensory this makes even learning by oneself interpersonal. Egocentric speech is like a dialogue between the senses" http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance/S6D.HTM

And so for day 710

World of Wonders, Sexy World

Alberto Manguel in his introduction (dateline of Toronto, 1992) to the anthology The Gates of Paradise is magnanimous in his praise for what has survived and almost mystical in his vision.

Confronted with the task of making art out of a bewildering variety of objects and subjects, acts and variations, feelings and fears; limited by a vocabulary designed for other purposes; walking the perilous edge between pornography and sentimentality, biology and purple prose, the coy and the over-explicit; threatened by societies intent on preserving the aristocracies of established power through the censoring forces of politics, education and religion, it is a miracle that erotic literature has not only survived this long but become braver, brighter, more confident, pursuing a multi-coloured infinity of objects of desire.

For the mystic, the whole universe is one erotic object and the whole body the subject of erotic pleasure. The same can be said of every human being who discovers that not only penis and clitoris are places of pleasure but also the hands, the anus, the mouth, the hair, the soles of the feet, every inch of our astounding bodies. That which physically and mentally excites the senses and opens for us what William Blake called the Gates of Paradise, is always something mysterious and, as we all eventually find out, its shape dictated by laws of which we know nothing. We admit to loving a woman, a man, a child. Why not a gazelle, a shoe, the sky at night?
Quite a domain to explore.

And so for day 709

Sacks on Luria and Freud

I am taken by the generosity of spirit that inhabits this account.

Here, it seems to me, is the key to Luria's early enthusiasm for psychoanalysis, for Freud; here, too, the permanent heuristic effect of Freud on his thought, whatever reservations and differences were later to appear. Freud offered a principle — the general principle Luria needed, the only tenable principle for a scientific, human psychology. And this principle was, in essence, an orientation which faced two ways: one which looked down into the biological depths of human nature, but equally and simultaneously up into the events and interactions of social life, a science that looked equally into nature and culture.
Goldberg, Elkhonon, ed. Contemporary Neuropsychology and the Legacy of Luria. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1990. Contains: Sacks, Oliver. Luria and “Romantic Science”, pp. 181-194.

And so for day 708

Vigour and Visions of Youth

Paul Goodman concludes "Counter-Forces for a Decent Society" the second of his 1966 Massey lectures (collected under the title the Moral Ambiguity of America) with a description of the radical youth of the time. It is a description extended to all youth of the time. And perhaps of all time since then.

So, describing American radical youth, and to a degree many other American youth, we have noticed their solidarity based on community rather than ideology, their style of direct and frank confrontation and personal contact, their democratic inclusiveness and aristocratic confidence careless of status, caste, or getting ahead, their selectivity and somewhat defiance of the affluent standard of living, their striving to be authentic and committed to their causes rather than merely belonging, their determination to have a say and their refusal to be pushed around or processed as standard items, their extreme distrust of top-down direction, their disposition to anarchist organization and direct action, their disillusion with the system of institutions and their belief that they can carry on major social functions in improvised parallel enterprises. Some of these traits, in my opinion, are natural to all unspoiled young people, but all of them are certainly in contradiction to the dominant organization of American society.
And I reflect on how old I was when that was broadcast on CBC radio. And how many young people have come of age since then.

And so for day 707

Solitary Recollections via Preserves

The poem acts in a way as food put by. It acts as a container for memory whose fragrances unroll at the touch of sensitive mind. Or so I believe after reading, Minnie Bruce Pratt's poem which gives the title to the collection The Sound of One Fork. With obvious echoes of the Buddhist koan, the poetic voice contemplates the woman next door who eats alone but "She does not hurry, she does not linger." And it is this balance that is carried over into the next stanza and its theme of aloneness and community. See:

Her younger neighbors think that she is lonely,
that only death keeps her company at meals.
But I know what sufficiency she may possess.
I know what can be gathered from year to year,
gathered from what is near to hand, as I do
elderberries that bend in damp thickets by the road,
gathered and preserved, jars and jars shining
in rows of claret red, made at times with help,
a friend or a lover, but consumed long after,
long after they are gone and I sit
alone at the kitchen table.
What I found remarkable in these lines is the subtle repetition of "I know" and "gathered" and how the knowing is followed by the gathering — in the ordered way of the poem towards the voicing of greater physicality — and then the proof of the "jars and jars shining". The poem doesn't end here with the figure of the sitter alone at the kitchen table. It could but it doesn't. Just as death could be the only companion but isn't.

And so for day 706

History and Complicity

I adore Neil Bartlett's resourcefulness in postulating three types of history of interest to gay men.

The first telling of the story ends with the "I" assuming a coherent contemporary identity; the second with "we" arriving at a coherent contemporary culture; the third with "him" truly deciphered, and enshrined as a major or minor character in the second story and patron saint or role model for the first. All three of these stories are biographies.
Further along I admire how he narrows the appeal of such a model patron saint. He provides an ironic, I believe ironic, twist on the notion of an elite readership that falls out as a consequence of the third method of telling the story.
The third method of reading obliterates even the possibility that I might find ugly, as well as beautiful, meanings in my past, my culture. Indeed, it elegantly does away with any complex or changeable "meaning" at all. It does not require the studied interpretation of signs; it does not need to be learnt or purchased. It is without difficulty. It presupposes that gay men recognize and enjoy the signs of wealth. Other meanings (gay signals operate in a straight world; wealth lives alongside poverty) are forgotten, just as we forget the hours in the gym and see only the natural beauty and health radiating from a well-muscled body. The works of Oscar Wilde, for instance, were written for us and for us alone, and only we can truly understand them. We belong together, don't you think?
It is a highly accessible elite that is addressed in the pages of Who was that man? a present for Mr. Oscar Wilde. It does not take much to slip into what the French call conivence. And it is this complicity that informs later on the meditation on how to interpret evidence and brings us, reader and author, to a species of resistance.
This "evidence" raises important questions about our own attitude to our own history. Do we view it with dismay, since it is a record of sorrow, of powerlessness, a record of lives wrecked? Or is it possible to read even these texts, written as they were by journalists, policemen and court clerks, with delight, as precious traces of dangerous, pleasurable, complicated gay lives?

And so for day 705

Apocalyptic Discourse and Underclasses

October 24, 1996. Special Section to The Toronto Star entitled "Fast Foward" contains article by Wade Rowland. It is called "Class and the Net". One of the call outs:

We tend to think of any breakthrough technology in apocalyptic terms, and those who don't see in it the "end of civilization as we know it" are apt to lend to it magical power to solve all manner of difficult problems.
And then there is this turn on the digital divide:
To avoid creating a new underclass in the information age, we have to concentrate on traditional social goals like education and income redistribution. We have a political job to do ... Technology creates opprotunities; opportunities turn into problems when we fail to manage them properly.
The sentiment of these call outs is perenial ***** all the more poignant when we in this wireless epoch read in the body of the text that "[i]n the era of the Internet, access to information is a function of access to telephone jacks." The technology has evolved. Income redistribution not so much.

And so for day 704

Resurrecting Coincidences of Layout

Michael Balzer describes in the 05.05.05 edition of Eye Weekly the art of Wim Delvoye then on show at the Olga Korper Gallery as part of the photography exhibition CONTACT 2005.

intriguing gimmick: the mosaics are not made of marble or ceramic as they appear to be, but of cold cuts like salami, ham, mortadella and chorizo http://contests.eyeweekly.com/eye/issue/issue_05.05.05/arts/eyecandy.php
In the print edition of the paper, there is alongside the Eye Candy column a poem by Mark Truscott from Said Like Reeds or Things (Coach House Press, 2004) which is tile-like in its repetitions.
Knowing he's dead, Glenn Gould plays Schoenberg.
Knowing he's dead, Glenn Gould plays Schoenberg
Of course there is that ghostly ambiguity — not knowing just who the referent of the pronoun "he" might be ... similar reference ambiguity -- tile or cold cut?

And so for day 703

Reading the Feeling for Stein

Passionate engagement is always wonderful to witness. It borders on obsession.

[...] as I painstakingly made my way through the manuscripts of her early notes and writings, I saw something else. A picture of Stein's writing as a record of where her body was and had been emerged; every day that she wrote etched itself, not by date, but by shifts in grip and posture and concern and ink, upon the page
Karin Cope. Passionate Collaboration: Learning to Live with Gertrude Stein

I like the way she continues the story with a description of the experience of reading Stein aloud:
For to say the words aloud is to have made, already, a set of interpretive decisions about accent, intonation, scansion; in short, to have engaged the words — or Stein — in sort of animation.
I take the animation to be less spectoral and more cinematic.

And so for day 702

History, Culture and Sexism

I was taken by the phrase "securities in dimorphism". And then led to ponder the synchronicity of such securities.

Among the markers that distinguish interpretations of women and literature, and the presentation of women in literature, from the interpretations of class and literature, and the presentation of class in literature, is the frequency of the assumption that differences of sex and gender are immutable, ascocial, atemporal — a human embodiment of natural law. Ironically, both sexual conservatives and certain radical cultural feminists share an attraction to such assumptions. The former tends to prize the male; the latter certainly celebrates the female, but both seek synchronic securities in dimorphism.
Catharine R. Stimpson. "Ad/d Feminam: Women, Literature and Society (1980)" in Where the Meanings Are: Feminism and Cultural Spaces

I like the way she continues the argument:
A powerful conceit magically lifts the artist from society and stabilizes the assignment of creativity to an ahistorical realm. [...] to compel some women to find substitutes, signs of female creativity that draw on female biology, on blood, ova, genitalia. Such efforts repeat the pattern of using organic language of the body to transform a social role into a transcendent calling.
Implicitly here in this commentary on metaphors of writing, we are invited to consider just what sort of calling might be the act of reading.

And so for day 701

Living Artfully

Svevo Brooks has produced a charming and simple book, The Art of Good Living. It is no easy task to accomplish the simple. This book subtitled "Simple Steps to Regaining Health and the Joy of Life" does that. Brooks covers five areas:

It is a listing that can tumble. That is, the elements can be shuffled in any order of priority. You don't have to start at the beginning. It is important to realize that my short list doesn't correspond verbatim to the table of contents in The Art of Good Living. Take for example, the chapter on elimination, it is called "Good Housekeeping". In other words, there is a lot of charm at work.

And so for day 700

Mixed Luddites

I wonder if they exist and what they may call themselves. People who are early adapters of new technology in only some aspect of their lives and traditional about their technological choices in others. They might compose multimedia mashups and still send thank you notes written by hand. They may listen to radio and avoid television. They might have the latest espresso maker and still use cast iron (instead of nonstick) frying pans. I would venture to call them "mixed luddites" and suspect that many of them ride bicycles.

And so for day 699

McLuhan And

In clearing out some old boxes of papers, I came across the very beginnings of an outline of a course built in a comparative mode. Unfortunately all that exists of the proposed course is the listing of books by McLuhan and the names of authors to read alongside.

Mechanical Bride: Barthes Mythologies

Gutenberg Galaxy: Ong Ramus, Method & the Decay of Dialogue

Medium is the Massage: Baudrillard Simulations

From Cliché to Archetype: Frye Anatomy of Criticism
And the posthumous Laws of Media was paired with the far earlier Vico.

And so for day 698

Ghosts of Liberties Past

William Gibson. Spook Country. Chapter 29 "Insulation". The character Milgrim is speaking.

"Are you so scared of terrorists that you'll dismantle the structures that made America what it is?


"If you are, you let the terrorist win. Because that is exactly, specifically, his goal, his only goal: to frighten you into surrendering the rule of law. That's why they call him 'terrorist.' He uses terrifying threats to induce you to degrade your own society."


"It's based on the same glitch in human psychology that allows people to believe they can win the lottery. Statistically, almost nobody ever wins the lottery. Statistically, terrorist attacks almost never happen."
I like how the theme of gambling is woven into the theme of the degradation of the rule of law. It makes it as concrete as holding onto a lottery ticket. And as equally deflating.

And so for day 697

Image Culture Burnout

Scrawl retrieved.

Got a name: Thomas Scoville

Got a phrase: "image culture burnout"

Conducted a search.

Found the article: The Elements Of Style: UNIX As Literature

His is hyphenated "image-culture burnout". Mine is not. Displacing the emphasis. Thinking about the "image of culture burnout". Somewhat justified by the locus of Scoville's use:

I will admit NT made my life easier in some respects. I found myself doing less remembering (names of utilities, command arguments, syntax) and more recognizing (solution components associated with check boxes, radio buttons, and pull-downs). I spent much less time typing. Certainly my right hand spent much more time herding the mouse around the desktop. But after a few months I started to get a tired, desolate feeling, akin to the fatigue I feel after too much channel surfing or videogaming: too much time spent reacting, not enough spent in active analysis and expression. In short, image-culture burnout.
The physicality of it all is noteworthy. Scoville has much more to say about the freedom that the mastery of UNIX brings. Me, for now, I will stick to wondering about the proliferation of image culture burnout.

And so for day 696

Signification and Purposelessness

There are never enough explanations of the difference between communication and signification for the latter is a particularly challenging concept for students. The following seems to do well.

[S]ign activity takes place irrespective of specific functions and purposes, and therefore it is sometimes necessary to consider sign activity as a sort of idle, non-functional and unproductive semiotic mechanism.
From Susan Petrilli and Augusto Ponzio Thomas Sebeok and the Signs of Life in the series Postmodern Encounters edited by Richard Appignanesi.

And so for day 695

Particular Settings in the Built Environment

I am carried away into a world cherishing the ways of the mind by the following list of neat places:

UNIVERSEUM (European Academic Heritage Network) is concerned with academic heritage in its broadest sense, tangible and intangible, namely the preservation, study, access and promotion of university collections, museums, archives, libraries, botanical gardens, astronomical observatories, and university buildings of historical, artistic and scientific significance. http://www.universeum.it/
The listing reminds me of the setting of the Philip Pullman novels, the Oxford of His Dark Materials.

And so for day 694

Turing on States and Instructions

Andrew Hodges. Alan Turing: The Enigma of Intelligence "The Spirit of Truth" p. 107 note

The arguments also implied two rather different interpretations of the machine 'configuration'. From the first point of view, it was natural to think of the configuration as the machine's internal state — something to be inferred from its different responses to different stimuli, rather as in behaviourist psychology. From the second point of view, however, it was natural to think of the configuration as a written instruction, and the table as a list of instructions, telling the machine what to do. The machine could be thought of as obeying one instruction, and then moving to another instruction. The universal machine could then be pictured as reading and decoding the instructions placed upon the tape. Alan Turing himself did not stick to his original abstract term 'configuration', but later described machines quite freely in terms of 'states' and 'instructions', according to the interpretation he had in mind. This free usage will accordingly be employed in what follows
In Turing's model the moves are simple. A symbol being scanned can be changed, erased or remain unchanged; the machine can move to observe another segment (square); the machine can remain in the same configuration or change to some specified configuration. Past moves determine future moves; a state may also be treated as an instruction.

In some ways this is like reading a text.

And so for day 693

So Said Wang Wei

The reduplication in this poem by Wang Wei for me provides a mimetic commentary on the actions of the birds.

Vast vast the water falls

              where the white egrets fly

Dark dark the summer trees

              where the yellow orioles sing

from "Written at my house near the Wang River at a time of incessant rain" collected in Poems of Wang Wei translated by G.W. Robinson. And indeed the repetition reminds one of the persistent rain.

I love Robinson's note on these lines:

Though literary allusion, involving mild plagiarism, is an essential feature of Chinese literature, some critics feel that here Wang Wei, always particularly inclined to plagarise, has gone too far. He has taken two successive five-syllable lines from the T'ang poet, Li Chia-yu, and tacked on a pair of reduplicated expressions at the beginning (vast vast, dark dark). But it is also argued that he has greatly enhanced the feeling of two otherwise banal descriptive lines.

And so for day 692


Scat in the Eye

Phyllis Gottlieb, in a poem full of the sensibility of children at play and the social reflections found in childhood rhymes, presents the reader with a thoughtful aside:

(as I was sitting beneath a tree
a birdie sent his love to me
and as I wiped it from my eye
I thought: thank goodness cows can't fly)
Size matters. From "Ordinary Moving" in the collection of the same title.

And so for day 691

Intellectual Alternative

Catharine R. Stimpson is for me one of the unrivalled masters of peroration. The endings of her essays are designed to carry your thought forward in an amiable meditation on what has been presented. Take for example the lines just preceding the conclusion to "Tillie Olsen: Witness as Servant (1977)" from Where the Meanings Are: Feminism and Cultural Spaces. It is so easy to lift and retain in memory. It is meant to.

[T]he artist must continually invent extraordinary classrooms and curricula. He or she must in life, become an intellectual alternative.
One reads here the shadow of Gramsci's organic intellectual. And something more — intellectual with Stimpson is an adjective as well as a noun. The life of the mind is celebrated as is difference. This sets the stage for the approaching the act of witnessing as a way of seeing a way out.
The act of witnessing, when it returns to the shadows of the past and becomes elegiac, sees possibilities of wretchedness that, somehow, the witness evaded; the final losses that the ego did not, after all, have to endure. The act of witnessing, when it records the dreams that animated the past and were a source of its dignity, sees possible alternatives to wretchedness. In both cases, the witness is, in effect saying, "I wish my work to so alter circumstances that if I were to be born again, I would not have to fear death, and the death of my dream, as I once did."
This is a life lived well beyond survivour guilt.

And so for day 690

Cell is to Nature as Point is to Art

Wassily Kandinsky towards the end of the "line" chapter of Point and Line to Plane (translated by Howard Dearstyne and Hilla Rebay) contrasts nature and art.

One must not, however, draw false conclusions from similar cases: the difference between art and nature lies not in the basic laws, but, rather, in the material which is subject to these laws. Furthermore, the basic characteristics of the material, which in each case are different, must not be left out of consideration: the proto-element of nature — cell — which is well known today, is in constant, actual movement, whereas the proto-element of painting — point — knows no movement and is rest.
Geology seems half-way between nature and art.

And so for day 689

In Service of Revolution

Sheila Rowbotham. Woman's Consciousness, Man's World

Oppression is not an abstract moral condition but a social and historical experience.
More along the same vein:
The Ruling class grows sentimental at its own convenience.
And a little factoid in need of updating:
The Chase Manhattan Bank estimated a woman's overall working hours as averaging 99.6 per week.
Brute facts sometimes point to poignant stories.

And so for day 688

Unaddressed: Lament and Laceration

Tucked into a notebook a torn piece of paper with a message totally unrelated to the longish bit about narratology that was the notebook's subject at that spot...


bodily fluids were banned by the CIA campaign of disinformation about AIDS and we, or at least some of us, that is gay men of a certain [long dash indicating continuation on the recto] generation and character ——— have begun are beginning and will continue with greater force to pour upon the world the acid of our banned tears and until there is not -->

And that is all there is. And the lines somehow read as the vatic voice of another. So wild. So crazy.

And so for day 687


Never Leaving Home

I found these two quotations transcribed on separate index cards and am pleased to juxtapose them here.

Mothers may weep goodbye or wave their sons into manhood with patriotic fervor, but they cannot prevent them from going. No need to. No matter how far a son may travel, he will never really leave home.

Never will man find a woman as able, as willing, to give birth to him again.

[From Phyllis Chesler About Men]
And now for the almost obverse view:
But sons grow up
imaginary ones as well,
and perpetual children are tedious

[Thom Gunn, "Selves", The Passages of Joy]
Ursula K. Leguin once published a lovely book plus cassette tape entitled Always Coming Home. And we conclude that our relations are not so much about place as about process.

And so for day 686

Cells, Cells, Cells

Linda Hogan. Three lines from somewhere in mid-poem. "We Will Feed You" collected in Rounding the Human Corners.

as we journey,

myself a cell of someone's body,

seeing it through their eyes,

It is, I believe, the influence of the title of this poem that reminds me of Wittig's The Lesbian Body. The feeding coming from one's very being itself. But when I return to this most visceral of texts, I am at a loss. We are far from Hogan's universe and yet the singing and the bringing into being are themes that also run through Wittig's world where as Margaret Crosland in the introduction to the English version writes "language is the clue to speech, life and the body itself." And language nourishes even as it (like the spare lines of Linda Hogan's poetry) subtracts. Take this lovely instance rendered from the French into English by David Le Vay


The first women to awaken have announced the pure and simple disappearance of the vowels. [...] Your lip your tongue modulate the new language in guttural sounds, the uttered consonants jostled one against the other produce gruntings gratings scrapings of the vocal cords, your voice untried in this pronunciation speeds up or slows down and yet you cannot stop talking. The novel effect of the movement of your cheeks and mouth the difficulty the sounds have in making their way out of your mouth are so comical that I choke with laughter, I fall over backwards, m/y tears stream, I regard you still and silent, I am increasingly overcome by laughter, suddenly you too are affected, you burst out, your cheeks colour, you fall over backwards

All is not so easily hilarious between the I and the you, as can attest a thorough reading of The Lesbian Body

I leave you alone in the room where you have spoken to m/e as to a stranger where you have not recognized m/e despite the glare of the lanterns. At m/y order the women prepare m/y severed limbs m/y arms m/y thights m/y legs whose flesh is meticulously removed and boiled for a long time, they offer it to you surrounded by different sauces on glittering plates each plate bearing a different name to please you.

There is nothing guileless about feeding. I have perhaps tainted Hogan's poem by this recollection. Perhaps, not. The poem "We Will Feed You" ends with these lines:

the man saying,

We will feed you.

We will care for you.

You may step upon our land.

At what cost are we fed? Do we feed?

And so for day 685


Lunch Artist

I take issue with the characterization of Scott Burton's chairs found in James Cross Giblin's Be Seated: A Book About Chairs. (The description may be accurate but the interpretation is unjust.)

Burton's stone furniture has serious limitations. Since the pieces each weigh between eight hundred and three thousand pounds, they cannot be moved easily and usually stay wherever they are first set down. Also, their hard surfaces and sharp edges discourage sitters from remaining on them for more than a few minutes.
The illustration accompanying this commentary shows the solitary artist bundled up against a cool day with the granite tables and stools he designed for a plaza in New York City. And so is offered up as visual proof that the furniture is not people-friendly.

The picture can also be interpreted to accentuate the function of outside furniture that must resist vandalism and accommodate shifting crowds. As well it looks beautiful even when the plaza is underpopulated.

Timing is everything. A sunny day and a mid-day crowd might present a different picture. Take for example the artist's own words.
My work is often only activated at lunchtime. People don't inhabit a public space except maybe at lunch time. I feel like, you know, I'm a lunch artist. [Source: Audio Program excerpt MoMA 2008]
A chair is not only a place to sit; it is also a place to visit.

And so for day 684


Towards the end of "What Matter Mind: A Theory About the Practice of Women's Studies (1973)", Catharine Stimpson comments on the open-endedness of self creation. She observes that loneliness and insecurity

[...] are transformed into humility, a recognition that the self cannot be an exemplum, only an experiment.
She goes on to link humility, tolerance and faith in reason.
Humility is a quality of the tolerance that is a consequence of reason. But then, I have faith in reason and in the benefits of rational activity. My faith reaffirms, in the teeth of an irrational educational system, the mind matters.
I am moved to ponder if a smidgen of pride is not also important for the recipe to succeed. Indeed does not the curiosity and the impetus to know stem from a feeling of one's assurance in one's right to know? A little boldness assists the gendered being in inhabiting an intellectual universe where one is sometimes cut off. It is worth experimenting with the thought (and reading Stimpson's full essay collected in Where the Meanings Are: Feminism and Cultural Spaces).

And so for day 683

Round and Round

One of the best descriptions concerning the circularity of interpretation and the steps of the hermeneutical endeavour is to be found in the pages of a book by David Couzens Hoy (The Critical Circle: Literature, History, and Philosophical Hermeneutics)

Language [...] it brings certain features of each world or horizon to light, it conceals other features. Similarly, the text itself must have functioned in the same way, clarifying certain features of the actual situation that were perhaps only dim adumbrations before, at the same time concealing other features. Language is essentially entrenched in history, then, insofar as it is the same time limited to particulars and can never reveal the whole as such. At the same time language is the essence of history, for it is this process of revealing and concealing that demands further accounts and further actions. Accounts and actions are linked, for an action is taken according to the account that is believed, while accounts are themselves actions, since they structure the situation and sometimes alter it.
It is important to note that what is at play here is a gap between revealed and concealed and that ""Language" here means the way the situation is encountered, the way problems are phrased, and the way the future is anticipated." An encounter, a phrasing, an anticipation, it is not difficult to see (and hear) the moment where the gap gives rise to metadiscursivity, a reasoning about the reasons and the wherefore of action.

And so for day 682

Excuse as Entry into Comedy

Sorry I will not quote an extensive swath of his prose and thereby impinge upon your attention.

Excuses betoken, we might say, the incessant, unending vulnerability of human action, its exposure to the independence of the world and the preoccupation of the mind.
And a page later we may read
Excuses mark out the region of tragedy, mark it as the beyond of the excusable, the justifiable, the explainable, (the sociable?). Who among philosophers has a theory of forgiveness, and whether it is giveable? It must be a theory of comedy.
There is far more in the context of this rift on Austin's How To Do Things with Words by Stanley Cavell in his Bucknell lectures published under the title Philosophical Passages: Wittgenstein, Emerson, Austin, Derrida. You may wish that I had quoted more. You may even be sorry that I haven't. And yet you may be happy and not sorry at all that what little is given here impels you to Cavell or to Austin or to both.

And so for day 681

Limits and the Nature of Surprise

Samuel R. Delany in "Atlantis: Model 1924" astonishes the reader with an evocation of the evanescent stream of perception and the inability of recall to master every moment. What at first seems like a melancholy meditation on the passage of time becomes a means of celebrating the often untapped potential for new patterns to emerge and delight.

Watching the dawnscape, still iceless, flip along, he contemplated for the thousandth time the astonishing process by which the seamless and inexorable progression of the present slipped away to pack the past with memories, like numbered stanzas in a song, like cells in a comb, like cakes in a carton, to be called back (though, he'd already ascertained, most he'd never recall) in whatever surprising, associative order.
It is worth noting that the contemplation occurs on a moving train. The passage itself offers an interesting associative order — song to honey comb to cake. For some reason there is some Homeric echo here. And the hero of other travels and the constant question about being-at-home-in-the-world.

And so for day 680

Fragrant Fragments

I did a double take.

They [various techniques of avant garde poets] invite the mind to a widened sense of the possible, opening it to the fragrant [...]
I read this as an opening to the fragment. Imagine my surprise when I read on: "opening it to the fragrant, stored oils of the unconscious." Here are the two parts restored from "The Question of Originality" by Jane Hirshfield (collected in Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry)
They invite the mind to a widened sense of the possible, opening it to the fragrant, stored oils of the unconscious.
I remain amazed at the power of a comma to halt the mind that is galloping off in one direction and bring it back to a different track, slowing down to savour the fragrance.

And so for day 679

Melodies of Cakes

Susan Drodge in a review covering several books of poetry by Canadian authors (Canadian Literature 165 (2000)) entices the reader with a quotation from Dream Museum by Liliane Welch. Our appetite is whetted:

She was still young,
in her late twenties
when she put on weight.
Did she simply open
the doors of her mind
to the melodies of cakes?
A choice: be satisfied with this modest morsel or engage in the practice covered by the French verb se gaver — to turn to the source and stuff oneself until full and to relish every moment of the feasting.

And so for day 678

Robust Struggles

It is perhaps not particularly fair to pull out this fighting-words excerpt from one of Christopher Norris's lectures (the Bucknell Lectures in Literary Theory published under the title Spinoza & the Origins of Modern Critical Theory) — but while you read just keep in mind that the springboard for the remarks is the Rushdie case:

On the one side are those who advocate an allegiance to truths beyond reach of critical assessment or reasoned debate. On the other are those — admittedly in a state of some confusion at present — whose appeal (or whose best possible ground of appeal) is to the interests of open discussion and enquiry into the values that sustain both their own and their opponents' argumentative positions. Any hint of ethnocentric smugness here should be amply dispelled by the occasional reminder — such as Empson provides — of just how long it took for courageous free-thinkers like Erasmus, Montaigne, Spinoza, or Voltaire to knock Christianity into some kind of civilized shape.
I am very taken by the image of being knocked into some kind of civilized shape. Not a parenting style presently favoured. Still, given the context, pretty mild medicine.

And so for day 677

Small Furniture Big Imaginations

For some reason, it is the mention of the furnishings of the library that capture my attention in an article about the institutional recognition of children's literature (Beverly Lyon Clark, "Kiddie Lit in Academe" in Profession 1996 published by the Modern Language Association)

As early as 1877 Minerva L. Saunders — perhaps the first librarian to allow children under twelve to use public library books — set aside a corner of the Pawtucket, Rhode Island, library for children, even providing special small chairs for them.
And this provokes the memory of being a small child in a big big armchair next to an adult as I plodded through the words beneath a set of illustrations. And at times the reading would break off into an explication of the events unfolding in the pictures and their continuation in the mind at play.

And so for day 676

Ballot Bullets

Steve McCaffery in "Bill Bissett: A Writing Outside Writing" collected in North of Intention: Critical Writings 1973-1986 advocates a type of anti-reading that emphasizes concentration on the graphic and sonic elements of a poem, that is attention to the materiality of the materials. He writes: "Which is to suggest that Bissett's anti-inscriptional strategies are matchable by the reader's own anti-reading that would affirm a motion, not comprehend a sense." Instead of seeking an example in Bissett's oeuvre, allow me to draw attention to Colin Morton "Election Day Ballet" from The Merzbook: Kurt Schwitters Poems where the concrete poem progressively deforms/reforms the word "ballot" into a line of bullets, to end with this:

bulletbulletbulletbullet  bulletbulletbullet
It is not quite accurate to say that the poem deforms/reforms the words. The words appear as in a ballet. They dance in various slots and positions. It is only the last line that trips up the usual spacing between words. Nevertheless, the overall impression is one of movement from "ballot" to "bullet". However the poem can be read from bottom-up and the movement from rat-tat-tat of bullets to the measured incidence of ballots. The anti-reading is in a sense antiphonal: it turns the other way. And along the way discovers other senses.

And so for day 675


Hum Along

Speaking to oneself is cured by singing
As if the sad soul were stammering ...

Found in a notebook entry dated October 16, 2004, an entry on interior monologue (its displacement by "vocalization of a mesmerizing tune"). And a year later (2005) there is this thought

Time in its rhythmic dimension is a way of parsing experience to manage having the desired actions match the desired space. Time as duration and time as punctuation.
Synchronization seems to be psychological in nature — its fitness is marked by an interior justness.

And so for day 674

Sneeze Response

Louis Zukofsky honours the atheist's heart with a poem entitled "To Friends, for Good Health" collected in selected poems edited by Charles Bernstein. There is a wonderful play between "best" and "blest". It reads "And the / best / To / you / too". And its display on the page captures nicely the explosive return of a sneeze. See

And so for day 673

The Further Adventures of e

Lola Lemire Tostevin in an essay on Canadian poet bp Nichol ("Is This Where the Poem Begins?" collected in Subject to Criticism: Essays) suggests that "[w]hat bp Nichol wrote of Marshall McLuhan could easily apply to his own writing:"

There is a lightness of touch to McLuhan's writing, an airiness, that has often been mistaken for a lack of depth. But the wonderful thing in reading McLuhan is precisely that he was using language to take off, using it to soar free of an artificial notion of what constitutes profound thinking, utilizing instead the mind's ability to leap, to follow fictional highways to real destinations ...
Odd, when I find myself reading the twists and turns of the oeuvre of bp Nichol I am more inclined to plunk myself down and mine the text rather than soar (i.e. use the text as a springboard). Recall my being caught up in cogitating about the spacing "no is e" culled from "Coda: Mid-Initial Sequence" from The Martyrology: Book III reprinted in As Elected. I plod along sensitive to the sense making machinery. Later in that particular sequence one comes across the following line:
i (n) am e
The poetic subject "names" and negates. And the non-soaring reader is attentive to the echo with the earlier line "no is e". On offer is the negation of an "h".
11 years since i first conceived myself a writer
took up the task to earn the name
& now i see
i (n) am e
Now it is possible to also read, slowly, a different parsing "in am e". I see the enemy. And 'e is us. Or not entirely since the slow reader can resist easy identification with the shifter "i". I guess I am a sore reader prone to scratching...

And so for day 672


Robert Haas ends "Songs to Survive the Summer" which itself ends Praise with the following set of verses:

all things lustered
by the steady thoughtlessness
of human use.
Through the polish of use the objects in our daily lives develop a patina. Repetition adds a depth and a charm to the objects.

The process can also apply to the tales we tell and the lines of poetry we read. In the re-telling and the re-reading the objects not only furnish our minds but also acquire a lustre. Hass himself might include in "all things lustered" the passages in his poem about the making of onion soup (simply sumptuous from the cutting of the onions to the ladling and eating) or those about the grandfather-carved wooden nickel.

Of course there is a place in human experience for the enjoyment of the fresh and the new — the before-patina effects.

And so for day 671

Together Alone

John Bayley in his memoir about life with Iris Murdoch, Elegy for Iris provides remarks on "the best part of love and marriage" and exemplifies for us the kind appreciation for the partner's distinction that is a hallmark of affection.

We were together because we were comforted and reassured by the solitariness each saw and was aware of in the other.
That these remarks are to be found in a chapter devoted in large part to recounting the viewing of pictures and the impact of specific paintings gives an aesthetic dimension to these existentialist ponderings. There is something about picture viewing that suits the sentiment being expressed and becomes a fine figure to carry over into quotidian experience. And so the chapter ends with these musings:
So married life began. And the joys of solitude. No contradiction was involved. The one went perfectly with with the other. To feel oneself held and cherished and accompanied, and yet to be alone. To be closely and physically entwined, and yet feel solitude's friendly presence, as warm and undesolating as contiguity itself.
And it is only in the slowed down reading accompanying the transcription that I realize that he wrote "contiguity" and not "contingency".

And so for day 670

Proportions and Centuries

From an email signature block in use in 2001

20th : Machine Age :: 21st : Era of Reparation
Long views help us act locally; global perspectives help us act again and again.

And so for day 669

No Easy Noise

In a poetic sequence playing with the negation by spacing and elimination (a "now" becomes a "no w here" and simply a "no") [though not presented explicitly as such in the text nor in this particular order], one is immersed in a text of phantom letters and sounds. And so one comes across this configuration:

no  is
against the silent sleep

bp Nichol from The Martyrology: Book III as collected in As Elected (Talonbooks, 1980).

Of course there is the evident play with "noise" by introducing some noise in the usual linguistic processing. What is perhaps not so evident is the echo of the McIntosh "eep" — the sign under the classic operating system that indicates error or a "no, no". bp Nichol worked on the McIntosh and I believe his machine is housed at Simon Fraser University. [I know computer disks form part of the bp Nichol fonds ] It is likely the verbal echo crept into the poem through the reader's anachronistic interpretation — the piece is dated 1971-1973 a little before the entry of the McIntosh onto the market. The first Macintosh was introduced on January 24, 1984. Eep! eep!

Interesting that in Morse code the letter "e" is represented by a single dot.

Interested parties with a mathematical inclination may want to look up the history and applications of the number e. One of my favourite pieces of information about the number e — Leonhard Euler started to use the letter e for the constant in 1727 or 1728, in an unpublished paper on explosive forces in cannons. Bang!

And so for day 668


In my paper files I came across a course description from I believe the 97-98 academic year. It was being offered at the Centre for Comparative Literature (University of Toronto) by Ross Chambers, visiting as the Northrop Frye Chair. The seminar was about "the witnessing of historically traumatic events". Chambers proposes a hypothesis:

My hypothesis is that cultures reserve the category I call obscene (etymologically "off-stage" for events and experiences that are historically real but which cannot be represented under existing genre-dispensations which correspond, so to speak, the cultural on-stage. [...] witnessing, then, is the process by which obscenity is brought to cultural attention and the unspeakable comes to be discursively acknowledged through being brought on-stage. In that sense it is an oppositional practise because the obscene is subject to cultural denial, which witnessing resists.

The parenthesis opened at the adverb "etymologically" does not get closed...

Leads me to thinking about the status of sound generated off-stage and carried from the wings and the rafters to the audience out there.

The genre shifting sometimes results in the removing of brackets, fences, barriers. And leaving an open chamber )))

And so for day 667

Seeding the Long Tail

It's an active form of writing that honours the art of contemplation. In a way it is living a mandarin style in the open. The genre is the familiar common place book. A gathering.

The gesture is simple (and thereby difficult in its simplicity). It is very much a product of collecting and annotating. Adding one's own stamp to a scroll and by implication inviting others to think about how they read and view.

So it is a little like geocaching. Or perhaps more like tree planting. A geocacher might be around to hear the hoots and hollers of the treasure hunters experiencing the find. A tree planter works for a future further out than the human lifetime.

So it is like leaving traces. Accumulating a treasure trove. And letting the guardian dragon slumber eternally. The pieces are free for the taking and the encounter is fortuitous.

Traffic is generated by "word of mouth" or the vagaries of search engines. Self-promotion is almost eschewed. Almost. For a whisper of personality is tucked in around the edges.

Samuel R. Delany's descriptions of micro-theatre in Triton provide an analogy for the shape of the process of offering that is at the heart of seeding the long tail. The performance draws on the Renaissance genre of the dialogue of the dead and augments it with a twist of ancestor worship. It is like enshrining with irreverence at times but always with meaningful and provocative engagement. Like all good theatre it rehearses patterns and suggests shifts.

It tends to avoid addressing the crowd. It constructs its reader as singular and its constructions as singularities. Even as it will playfully run through a series of "we" and on occasion inflect "you" towards the threesome or more.

The effect is cumulative. The writing self is the first reader and each entry is published as an engagement with a way of reading and living. There is an ethical dimension to this absorbing and assembling of words. One begins to intuit one's style and tweak it now and then.  Like good practice the writer as first reader is attentive.

The trick is to cultivate the rarefied art of Sprezzatura: "well-practiced naturalness" or "rehearsed spontaneity," a trait possessed by the most gifted conversationists, debaters, politicians, intellectuals, teachers, socialites, and even Trappist monks.

When it really works it creates intimacy. What it is is a meta-erotics to live in the world automagically. It constantly models a giving of oneself over to the mind and the body. Totally at ease with process. Being in the world not of words by means of words.

And so for day 666

Liminal Delight

Sutherland, the voice of the aesthetic arbitrator, in Andrew Holleran's Dancer from the Dance reminds me at times in some of his baroque formulations of the passage in Edmund White's Forgetting Elena about the possible permutations of the pronunciations of "dah-ling". Here is an excerpt from a stupendous soliloquy invoking a particular right of passage.

He squeezed his hand and smiled. "There are three lies in life," Sutherland said to his young companion, whose first night this was in the realm of homosexuality and whose introduction to it Sutherland had taken upon himself to supervise. "One, the check is in the mail. Two, I will not come in your mouth. And three, all Puerto Ricans have big cocks," he said. And with that he leaned forward and cupped the young man's hand in his long black gloves and said to him in that low, breathless voice: "You are beginning a journey, far more bizarre than any excursion up the Nile. You have set foot tonight on a vast, uncharted continent. Do let me take you as far as I can. I shall hold your hand as far as we can go together, and point out to you the more interesting flora and fauna. I will help you avoid the quicksand in which you can drown, or at least waste a great deal of time, the thorn-thickets, the false vistas — ah," he sighed. "We have many of those, we have much trompe l'oeil in this very room!" he said ecstatically, cocking his cigarette holder at a sprightly angle. "So let us go upriver together as far as we may," he resumed, once more cupping his charge's white, slim hand, "and remember to ask questions, and notice everything, the orchids and the fruit flies, the children rummaging for food in piles of shit, and the ibis that flies across the moon at dusk. Let us go at least as far as the falls. What a journey! If only I can help you avoid the detours, culs-de-sac, fevers, and false raptures that I have suffered." He squeezed the fellow's hand and said, echoing the signal phrase of a Bar Mitzvah he had once attended in the guise of a Jewish matron from Flatbush: "For tonight, my dear, you are a homosexual!"

Glorious use of register. Fabulous initiation.

And so for day 665

Lovely Ending

Last sentences from The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery translated by Alison Anderson.

Because from now on, for you, I'll be searching for those moments of always within never.

Beauty, in this world.

Given the earlier remarks in the novel about commas, one needs to pay particular attention to the pause signalled in the last sentence. Just what thought occupies the space?

And so for day 664

Retracing Sequence and Series

From "Cartouches" the 11 December 1977 entry (p. 215) in Derrida's The Truth in Painting translated by Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod.

Retrace one's steps, always, again, narrative/series [récit/série].

I am grateful to the translators for recording the assonance that marks the play of the terms in French.

Makes me harken back to my own mediation on narration, narrative and sequence: Storing and Storing http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance/S6.HTM which after all these years I would like to revisit and suggest the addition of "Shuffling".

And so for day 663


Some of the epigraphs to various sections from H.L. Hix Chromatic

Spinoza (Ethics)
Desire is the very nature or essence of every single individual.

Wittgenstein (Remarks on Colour)
How must we look at this problem in order for it to become solvable?

Bach (The Well-Tempered Clavier)
For the use and practice of young musicians who desire.

I love the way the theme of desire and individuality makes its resurgence.

And so for day 662


From a friend who upon completing a reading of A Lover's Cock [poems by Verlaine and Rimbaud translated by J. Murat and W. Gunn (Gay Sunshine Press, 1979) made the wry comment on the pronunciation of the French poet's name:

Rim Bud

And so for day 661

Belonging and Place

Visual artist, Guillermo Gòmez-Peña writes in "Documented/Undocumented" (The Graywolf Annual Five: Multi-Cultural Literacy [1988]) about displaced Latin Americans:

Our generation belongs to the world's biggest floating population: the weary travelers, the dislocated, those of us who left because we didn't fit anymore, those of us who still haven't arrived because we don't know where to arrive at, or because we can't go back anymore.

It might be tempting to extrapolate the description and apply it to gay people who have migrated to cities. However the passage continues and it is not so clear as to how the description would or could apply to other groups.

Our deepest generational emotion is that of loss, which comes from our having left. Our loss is total and occurs at multiple levels: loss of our country (culture and national rituals) and our class (the "illustrious" middle class and upper middle). Progressive loss of language and literary culture in our native tongue (those of us who live in non-Spanish-speaking countries); loss of ideological meta-horizons (the repression against and division of the left) and of metaphysical certainty.

But if the loss is specific, the gain is translatable to other contexts.

In exchange, what we won was a vision of a more experimental culture, that is to say, a multi-focal and tolerant one. [...] new options in social, sexual, spiritual, and aesthetic behavior.

Read on, in the translation by Rubén Martinez, and discover that any mappings of new options arising out of a tolerant culture are achieved at a price, that of challenging artworld "mechanisms of mythification" and working at "true intercultural dialogue". A simple reading off of a queer context leaves too much behind (ironic in the context of a discourse about loss). Collaboration is offered as an alternative to simple appropriation.

Together, we can collaborate in surprising cultural projects but without forgetting that both should retain control of the product, from the planning stages up through to distribution. If this doesn't occur, then intercultural collaboration isn't authentic. We shouldn't confuse true collaboration with political paternalism, culture vampirism, voyeurism, economic opportunism, and demogogic multiculutralism.

Gòmez-Peña is writing about Latino and Anglo cultures. Could it be collaboration be done in the context of hetero and homo relations?

And so for day 660

Libraries, Gardens and Arabian Nights

I have always thought of gardens as libraries — housing genetic material to be read and recombined. Cameron Smith in the Toronto Star (June 14, 2003) in "The army in our gardens" makes a similar point.

A garden, then is a storybook of life. You can read as much, or as little, as you like. It is so full of stories, you will never come to the end. And, as in The Arabian Nights, each story so fascinates, you end up longing for the next one.

Smith goes on to review a book. A Breath of Fresh Air: Celebrating Nature and School Gardens by Elise Houghton with photographs by Robert Christie. He writes:

The book has 129 colour photographs of ponds, gardens, rehabilitated areas, and — the ones I like the most — of children, and their expressions of wonder.

If I can't find the book in my local library, I might settle for a World Wide Web search for "children AND gardens".

And so for day 659