Felicitous

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.

CRUNCH!
CROUCHE-CROUCHE!
Humpty Dumpty offers in English:
Old Fashion Style
CHIPS
Crispy
Crunchy
Good
which in French runs with a claim of no better than
RIEN DE MIEUX QUE NOS
CHIPS
à L'ancienne
Croustillantes
Croquantes
Savoureuses
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
31.12.2008

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
30.12.2008

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
29.12.2008

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
28.12.2008

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.

leaf
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
27.12.2008

Muddles

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
26.12.2008

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
25.12.2008

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
24.12.2008

Sexviation

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
23.12.2008

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
22.12.2008

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
21.12.2008

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
20.12.2008

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
19.12.2008

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
18.12.2008

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
17.12.2008

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
16.12.2008

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
15.12.2008

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
14.12.2008

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
13.12.2008

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
12.12.2008

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
11.12.2008

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
10.12.2008

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
09.12.2008

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
08.12.2008

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
07.12.2008

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
06.12.2008

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
05.12.2008

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
04.12.2008

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
03.12.2008

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
02.12.2008

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
01.12.2008