Estate Sales

We Are Still Married: stories and letters by Garrison Keillor has a piece called "Estate" which is about a stint as a writer of obituaries and a frequenter of estate sales. He speaks of an editor:

But I managed to convince him that large beds of beautiful zinnias were one of the deceased's accomplishments in life and should be noted in her obituary. He wouldn't let me mention another woman's rhubarb cake. "Recipes don't belong in an obit. Too disrespectful," he said. But he did once let me say, "An employee of the Northern Pacific for thirty-seven years, Mr. Johnson was well known for his skill as an electrician and for taking good care of his tools.

Which statement provides the segue to a description of estate sales:

I thought of my obit-writing days the other evening, after I'd spent the afternoon going around to estate sales. Like the obit trade, they might have been depressing — the homes of the deceased opened up for the sale of stuff the survivors didn't want, and hundreds of us strangers tramping through the rooms looking for bargains — but they were not. Not to me, anyway. I found them very satisfying. I went to three houses, all small and jammed with stuff [...]

And turns the perspective upon himself

I'm a saver myself, and to my considerable collection I added a little bit of each of theirs [...] Going to estate sales, a person is struck by the fact that possessions survive us. [...] I'll hang on to them, they are so dear, but when I'm dead they should be sold to strangers at rock-bottom prices. People who may not be born yet should come by my house and snatch them up as the wonderful bargains they will be. That's why I took good care of them — to extend their usefulness beyond the unimaginable day when I'm no longer here.

And now to make the point explicit: blogging is like running an estate sale.

And so for day 504

Roaming Conclusions

In the final section "Conclusions" of the anthology of selections and commentary entitled Texts and Pretexts (1932) Aldous Huxley invites us to consider last thoughts

Or if we must play the theological game, let us never forget that it is a game. Religion, it seems to me, can survive only as a consciously accepted system of make-believe. People will accept certain theological statements about life and the world, will elect to perform certain rites and to follow certain rules of conduct, not because they imagine the statements to be true or the rules and rites to be divinely dictated, but simply because they have discovered experimentally that to live in a certain ritual rhythm, under certain ethical restraints, and as if certain metaphysical doctrines were true, is to live nobly, with style. Every art has its conventions which every artist must accept. The greatest, the most important of the arts is living.

I find it conducive to philosophical musings to juxtapose the above with an excerpt from the Henry Vaughan poem collected under the heading of "Amor Fati"

   Man hath still either toys or care :
But hath no root, nor to one place is tied,
But ever restless and irregular,
   About this earth doth run and ride.
He knows he hath a home, but scarce knows where ;
   He says it is so far,
That he has quite forgot how to go there.

Religion as toy for the homeless? Being at home in the world is to be without religion?

And so for day 503

The Written Self and Writing

Two paragraphs from Sylvia Ashton-Warner Teacher presented in reverse order:

You never want to say that it's good or bad. That's got nothing to do with it. You've got no right at all to criticise the content of another's mind. a child doesn't make his own mind. It's just there. Your job is to see what's in it. Your only allowable comment is one of natural interest in what he is writing. As in conversation. And I never mark their books in any way never cross out anything beyond helping them rub out a mistake, never put a tick or a stamp on it and never complain of bad writing. Do we complain of a friend's writing in a strongly-felt letter? The attention is on the content.

Yet there are times when one cannot start. He's just not in the mood. You can't always say an important thing because it is the time to say it. Sometimes he will say candidly, "I don't want to write," and that's just what you get him to write: "i don't want to write." From there you ask, "Why?" and here comes an account of some grievance or objection which, after all, just as well as any other idea, delivers his mind of what is on it, practises his composition, and wraps him up in what is of interest to himself.

Such methods can also be applied to adults struggling with writer's block.

And so for day 502

The Written and the Writing Self

Quentin Crisp ends The Naked Civil Servant with cheeky yet profound meditation on the sense of an ending.

[...] an autobiography is an obituary in serial form with the last installment missing. We think we write definitively of those parts of our nature that are dead and therefore beyond change, but that which writes is still changing — still in doubt. Even a monotonously undeviating path of self-examination does not necessarily lead to a mountain of self-knowledge. I stumble toward my grave confused and hurt and hungry. ...

Time for a spot of tea and a nibble.

And so for day 501

Numbing and Splitting

Susan Buck-Morss "Walter Benjamin's Artwork Essay Reconsidered" October 62 (Fall 1992).

We are — by a long detour — back to Benjamin's concerns at the end of the Artwork essay: the crisis in cognitive experience caused by the alienation of the senses that makes it possible for humanity to view its own destruction with enjoyment.

How we think is connected to how we feel (perceive) and how we imagine.

This gains some purchase on the reader because earlier in the essay Buck-Morss comments on a passage in Husserl:

This separation of the elements of synaesthetic experience would have been inconceivable in a text by Kant. Husserl's description is a technical observation, in which the bodily experience is split from the cognitive one, and the experience of agency is, again, split from both of these.

Agent, body and observer. Their relations argues Buck-Morss are influenced by the social distribution of the technologies of anaesthesia.

And so for day 500


Edmund White concludes his memoir My Lives with a rich evocation of friendship whose final words are

Being predictable is one unforgivable sin in a friend.

And he has so nicely arranged the book so that strangers and friends can read the chapters in any sequence they desire and so participate in the pleasurable surprises that acquaintance with this volume brings.

And so for day 499

Lawn Parties

In A Good Heart and A Light Hand (1968), Ruth L. Gaskins writes about lawn parties in the introduction 'A Negro Welcome'

These lawn parties weren't big affairs, and I doubt whether they added much to the church treasury, but they certainly did liven up a hot summer night in the city. Very often you wouldn't know that one was going on until friend ran by and shouted, "Get a dime and come on over to Ebenezer Baptist." You wouldn't stop to put your shoes on, because you were going to be on the lawn of the church. If you were going inside, you'd not only have to put on shoes, but your best dress and hat and gloves as well. Negroes save their best clothes for church, not for parties. Those were nice nights, but they've given way to movies, amusement parks and night clubs; all the things that weren't open to us then.

And so for day 498

Literacy Promotion

A newspaper clipping explaining "When the button on the blank foolscap-like poster is pushed, a voice explains there are no words on the ad because 'five million adult Canadians would not be able to read them.'"

The message from the ABC Literaray Foundation plugs the "Look Under Learn" section of the Yellow Pages.

And so for day 497

Contiguous Files

File F is located close to File G. And this closeness allows me to read these passages close together.

Jane Flax. Thinking Fragments: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and Postmodernism in the Contemporary West (1990)

[p. 217] "In Foucault's work the aesthetic is connected with subjectivity in his idea of replacing the technologies of self with the ideal of making one's own life a work of art. Yet paradoxically, despite his criticism of Derrida's mystification of writing, Foucault does not ask himself the question "What forms of life make such a notion possible?" about this own aesthetic ideal. Such a constant remaking of the self presupposes a socially isolated and individualistic view of the self. It precludes the possibility of enduring attachments or responsibilities to another in which the other can rely on one's stability and "continuity of being." [our emphasis. Why does Flax make this link between individualism and change of the self?]

Gaytri Chakravorty Spivak. The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues (1990) ed. by Sarah Harasym.

p. 27 "The Post-modern Condition: The End of Politics?"

Questioning a text to get a companion

"Since we are not looking for a perfect analysis, but we are looking for the mark of vulnerability which makes a great text not an authority generating a perfect narrative, but our own companion, as it were, so we can share our own vulnerabilities with those texts and move. It seems to me that those are the places where we would begin to question."

p. 29 "The Post-modern Condition: The End of Politics?"

who you choose to address might connect to who you want to be

"It seems to me that what I was saying was not that you should consider all other subjects. I was saying that you might want to entertain the notion that you cannot consider all other subjects and that you should look at your own subjective investment in the narrative that is being produced. You see, that is something that I will continue to repeat, it is not an invitation to be benevolent towards others."

So back to Flax, who asks at the conclusion of her book [p. 236] "Does all knowledge necessarily inflict violence on things, ourselves and other persons?" with an answer: it does if you reduce aesthetic interactions to presuppositions of individualism.

And so for day 496

Thesis Report

Things mutate while they are being written, especially big pieces. I found a copy of a "report" to file that documents what I was trying to accomplish in the argumentation of a key passage in my dissertation where I move from critique to speculation and build a model. In some ways it is better and more accessible than the thesis (in part perhaps through the use of first person singular)...

Another way to pose questions is to posit axioms. For example, to claim the play of the senses is connected to questioning or the maintenance of the interrogative mood. The central question is not how to keep questioning open but how do perception and questioning connect.

I come to the conclusion that the material practice of translation is the key for imagining a sensorium that is more than merely receptive, one that is interactive in regards to its modalities and its environment. The stumbling block in imagining such a sensorium has been the means of translating from one modality to another. Verbal language seemed to be the best candidate. However it privileged sight and hearing, the distance senses, over those of closer contact: smell, touch, and taste.

So I began again. In re-evaluating the closer contact senses, especially their action under conditions of distress or extreme pleasure, I realized that the sensorium not only is a receiver but also a dispatcher of information. The senses are not only receptors. The senses also transmit. the senses in operation provide events for interpretation. The blinking of eyes, the cocking of an ear, the flicker of a tongue, all signal.

The human senses produce events. They preserve the trace of something happening at a certain time. Events can be connected.

The transformation of discrete somatic signals into sequence explains cross-modal encoding. The pathways between sensation and narration are particularly evident in non-linguistic narrative. I am thinking here of the anthropological studies of Nancy Munn on Walbiri iconographic practices; the films of Kay Armatage, especially Storytelling; the examples collected by Jerome Rothenberg in Shaking the Pumpkin and Technicians of the Sacred. A case for the separation of narration from verbal language is also made on neurophysiological grounds. Howard Gardner in Frames of Mind offers the conjecture that "sensitivity to narrative, including the ability to communicate what has happened in a series of episodes, seems more closely tied to the pragmatic functions of language (and thus proves more fragile in cases of right-hemisphere disease) than to core syntactic, phonological, and semantic functions" (89).

and so it goes on to tell a story and to get on with the telling...

And so for day 495

Why Make Babies

Very gnomic. Very pixie. Such are the comments at the bottom of this attempt at a preface for a scholarly work. Didn't quite fit (a tad polemical). Glad I kept it all these years to bring it to the fore here.

A gay man asking "why make babies" risks being unheard. Gay people pretend he is addressing straights. His question is aimed at closet cases so claim straight folk. The sophisticated lesbians have him talking to himself. So do the unsophisticated.

A gay man is always overheard. His questions sound like baby talk. His gestures resemble so many abstractions swirling around the asking, how he has been made, how he made it, so narcissitic. Knowing he is overheard he turns the made into a making like turning a trick, forever a boy.

None can ever quite reproduce his productions, unless they listen for the unhurriedness of the unheard at play and then know the risking at work.

Yes, very gnomic. Very pixie.

And so for day 494


From "The Kreig Anthology" opening poem of Under the Clock: new poems by Tony Harrison has a first-person satirical piece on Tony Blair. These lines leap out:

None of the blood and shit of war
ever clogs a single pore.

The repugnance all that stronger as the reader is resisting alignment with the first person speaker.

And so for day 493

Randomness and Reproduction

Came across a proposal from the mid 90s. The proposal is very lapidary in its prose. At this late remove, it seems too simple and yet under-explained. The proposal began thus

Characterizable by certain investments, reproductive consciousness manifests a desire to preserve ways of experiencing the world. A history of the senses is also a history of relations of reproduction. History begins with a count of the players.

and then the proposal later packed a lot into a short space with this:

"Belonging" represents a complex semantic field in which adhesion, membership, possession, and ownership criss-cross. The generated is no longer the simple embodiment of a relation between generators when relations cease to be one-on-one, when the dyad is no longer the fundamental unit of interaction. Discursive moves that reify the couple, moves stemming from folk models of biological reproduction, when brought to bear upon theories of social reproduction, downplay the heterogeneity of the social field. The social is constructed monologically and determinitically.

And now a good decade later I recall a passage from David Weinberger Small Pieces Loosely Joined, the chapter on "Knowledge" because in some sense it too is about the stories that are told about reproduction, of how a decision is born:

And what could be wrong with delivering the right information to the right people at the right time as an ideal to strive for? What's wrong is that it misunderstands how humans make decisions. [...] Making a decision means deciding which of these "inputs" to value and how to fit them together to make a coherent story. That means the causality runs backwards: the inputs don't determine the decision; the decision determines which of the inputs will count as influences. Then why do we like the phrase "The right information to the right people at the right time"? Perhaps because it implies that there's a way to eliminate the risk inherent in making decisions and in acting. Of course, that requires conceiving of ourselves as predictable machines made of matter — as computers — rather than as what we feel like to ourselves: an unpredictable disruption of the world of matter. [...] A version of these comments was published in the Harvard Business Review (September 2001) under the title "Garbage In, Great Stuff Out".

Computers can be programmed to both generate and utilize random numbers. The clash with matter is not so obvious. Count the players.

And so for day 492

Swallowing Secrets in Tiny Bits

"Spice" by A. Cinqué Hicks in Shade: An Anthology of Fiction by Gay Men of African Descent begins with a listing of the ingredients need to make gumbo.

To make gumbo, you need rice. Mama preferred brown rice. Then you also need an onion, butter, oil, flour, okra, green onions, tomatoes, shrimp and oysters, and an assortment of spices and herbs.

In the story it is the tradition for guests to bring a spice to add to the pot. Our protagonist adds an unusual ingredient.

And so for day 491

Scenes of Wat Sankatan

Thai Vegetarian Cooking by Vatcharin Bhumichitr is part travelogue part cookbook. There is a photo with the following caption:

In a forest temple, a young monk meditates beside the body of a deceased colleague.

Without the caption, one would not know the nature of the meditation. There is further description of the practice in the following pages from a distinct perspective:

The Abbot led me down a distant path where there was a slightly larger stilt-house containing white boxes that I knew at once to be coffins. Here, in the presence of their deceased colleagues, the monks come to undertake the ultimate stage of their monastic study, Asupakamatan, the meditation on the decomposition of the human body. First the five external elements, skin, nails, teeth, the hair of the head and the hair of the body are studied, and then come the usually hidden inner elements, now exposed in the coffins. Did I, the Abbot enquired, wish to see inside one of the boxes? No, I did not, and thankfully we progressed to a series of long low barns where in damp darkness the monks cultivate mushrooms.

And the tour concludes with the marker of memory:

Now when I eat mushroom yam [a piquant Thai salad], my thoughts turn back to Wat Sankatan, though I try to concentrate on the avenues of trees and the pleasant sight of flowering mushrooms in the shady huts, rather than the distant stilt-house and its open white boxes with their proof of the natural cycle in which we are all inescapably linked.

And so for day 490

A Description of Character; a reflection of atmosphere

"My Marriage to Vengeance" collected in A Place I've Never Been by David Leavitt.

But for Diana — well, from day one it was adventure, event and episode.

"Episode" concludes the listing and gives it a hint of disease or at least the symptom of a disorder. Something off cue.

And so for day 489

The Case of the Moving Plaque

John L. Casti The Cambridge Quintet: A Work of Scientific Speculation describes a set of fictional rooms at Christ's College. In these rooms is a plaque commemorating Charles Darwin.

"The Sherry"

Turning away from the oak-paneled and beamed dining room of his suite of rooms, Snow looked through the doorway connecting the dining room to the drawing room, casting his glance up at the plaque over the fireplace in the Georgian-style drawing room.

As the reader progresses through the courses, it appears that the location of the plaque has shifted:

"The Soup"

A cheery fire crackled in the fireplace beneath the plaque commemorating Darwin, taking the chill off the unseasonably cool evening. The guests situated themselves around an elegantly set rectangular oaken table laid for five [...]

A second fireplace and a second plaque? Or the same set up as in "The Sherry" section and the understanding the the guests have moved from drawing to dining room between the sentences? Interesting bit of indeterminacy in a book devoted to dinner-table conversation that itself deals with the consequences of Turing's work on the halting problem.

As one moves on and reads the other courses, one realizes there are two plaques referenced by the characters in this symposium. The reference to "the plaque" is to the plaque in the room, dinning or drawing, and not to a single one that might be a residual ghost from the use the definite article at a particular place.

And so for day 488

How to Grow a Landscape

e.e. cummings poem 82 from 95 poems

(here is that rain awaited by leaves with all
their trees and by forests with all their mountains)

if it were not for the parentheses the scene would keep on being enlarged

And so for day 487


On a piece of fading hotel notepaper, two statements recorded some ages ago in Chicago at a convention of the MLA, statements that deserve unpacking

Rhetoric is a question of bringing valence to bear on the tautological.

Dialectic is a peculiar algebra where multiplication is not commutative.

And so for day 486

from Image to Story

images “not surrounded by columns of type but framed on a blank wall or as here in a book” writes Richard Boston in the foreward to The Guardian Country Diary Drawings by Clifford Harper (2003, Agraphia Press) acquire a “narrative quality”

moreso because they the images are seen more than one at a time yet a single image approached in an exploitive [not exploitative] fashion with a heroic entreaty due any properly regarded fragment

this is as a

And so for day 485


Like the faint scent of rue leaves brushed by a hand busy not noticing the transfer tucked into the grain of skin and knob of knuckle, every event has its focus, its diffusion.

At some later point reminded ...

Thalia Field introducing a portfolio as guest editor of Conjunctions:28 remarks

[...] repetoire differs from place to place, person to person -- but carried in the mumbles, whispers, screeches and melodies [...] all the treasures of time.

The cutting board is hatchet-marked with countless traces of preparation.

And so for day 484


A.J. Ayer summarizing Bertrand Russell on Christianity does a splendid job in three sentences

This is not to argue that the moral failings, which Christians share with others, prove Christianity untrue. On the theological side, the grounds for not believing it are rational. On the moral side, the charge is that the moral failings find an apparent sanction in a part of Christian teaching; above all, in the doctrine of sin and retribution, and in the parable of the sheep and the goats, the restriction of salvation to the faithful, which has too often outweighed the noble idea of the brotherhood of man.

The parallelism is smart: Christians, others; sheep, goats; faithful, all humanity. Christianity stands condemned for the moral failings of its adherents who cannot or will not practice forgiveness. Pretty stern stuff. Not all of its adherents fail but enough do to taint the whole religion. That is a whole lot of chagrin for believers. And plenty of warning to to those that would curse the Christian. Hypocrisy in either direction is but a stone's throw away. Look at the tenses: no future tense; failings are set in the past (but with a hint that failings are possible again in some future); doctrine and teaching occupy the present (which seems less likely than failings to wither away or be forgotten); no future.

A duty is upon freethinkers to be exemplary. Heavy stuff. Splendid and smart.

And so for day 483

Insight, typographic and otherwise

Robert Bringhurst

The slash, like the dash, is more various in real life than it is on the typewriter keyboard.

The Elements of Typographic Style

And so for day 482

The Future Ain't So Big

land yet to be known
land unknowable
odd little zones

it is believed
that which is yet possible
is more enormous than
even bigger zone than
that which is never possible

the unregistered infinities are comparable
as the never possible expands to fill the past
as always
the future is such a short distance from the shrinking here
and not so big itself

And so for day 481


At 451 degrees Fahrenheit paper burns. What is the equivalent metaphor for the electronic crash?

And so for day 480


meditation on the seed
that does not come to fruition

the seed that does not germinate
     a placeholder in the pod

the seed that sprouts and dies
     green manure for the soil

the sprout that doesn’t bear fruit
the fruit that doesn’t ripen

     profuse extinction of excess
     gone all fossils

The title seems to be a “calque” on Reflections on a Gift of Watermellon Pickle from a Friend Called Felicity

And so for day 479


Yolande Villemaire La Vie en prose (Montreal: Les Herbes Rouges, 1980)

L'acte de dactylographier est un mudra.

And so for day 478

Open Spaces

Catherine Millet The Sexual Life of Catherine M. translated by Adriana Hunter

The second conclusion is that natural spaces do not feed the same fantasies as urban spaces. Because the latter is by definition a social space, it is a territory in which we express a desire to transgress codes with our exhibitionist/voyeuristic impulses; it presupposes the presence of others, of fortuitous looks to penetrate the aura of intimacy that emanates from a partially naked body or from two bodies soldered together. Those same bodies out under the clouds, with only God as their witness, are looking for the opposite sensation: not to make others come into the pocket of air in which their rapid breathing mingles but, thanks to their Edenic isolation, to let their pleasure spread as far as the eye can see. The illusion there is that their ecstasy is on the same scale as this expanse, that the body housing them is dilating to infinity. Perhaps the tipping into unconsciousness known as the petite mort is felt more keenly when the bodies are in contact with the earth, teeming with invisible life and in which everything is buried.

And so for day 477

Cartographic Vector

It dawned upon me that Spam is Maps spelt backwards.

And so for day 476


Francois Lachance Says:
May 4th, 2006 at 15:45
The blog voice, as any writing voice, is a filtering attractor. The game of blogging is also like tag mixed with scavenger hunt. Setting the question of self-fashioning aside, the blog is contract with the quotidien. It is a promise to engage with language. Not only from the perspective of a writer but also as a reader, one takes on a chunk at a time. The entry may be whole but the series is open and unconcluded (even if its author is no longer posting). Blogging is a celebration of the connectivity of the fragment. Beyond this knitting there is the reader approach to blog reading. Blogs are read as exemplary. Blog as basket not for self-presentation but for gathering pieces of an evaluative mosaic.

Without uttering a word, by writing, the commentator "says".

And so for day 475