Motives for Motivation

For a while now I have been intrigued by the objective of cultivating "intrinsic motivation". The phrase is from a 2000 conference paper by Deborah Hanson, Ph.D. presented online at the Teaching Online in Higher Education conference.

The underpinnings of interactions, which result in successful learning, involve the transfer of knowledge coupled with changes in intrinsic motivation
Thanks to the preservation efforts of William E. Fogarty the abstract and paper are archived at http://www.ofogartaigh.com/pro/portfolio/conference/Papers/hanson.htm. And we can gain more context:
For this reason, Crowder College developed extensive procedures, orientation, and guidelines for students. In support of the thesis, "The underpinnings of interactions, which result in successful learning, involve the transfer of knowledge coupled with changes in intrinsic motivation," the author has identified and examined seven distance learning interactions which help to promote interactivity:

Increase participation and feedback
Build communication and understanding
Enhance elaboration and retention
Support learner motivation and self-regulation
Develop team building
Promote exploration and discovery
Generate learner self-diagnosis and closure
I draw your attention to "Support learner motivation and self-regulation". This translates into the skills and knowledge to learn on one's own. I find it interesting that this characterization of metacognitive abilities appears to be couched in moral terms.

It begins to lift and unlock a somewhat for me cryptic statement (divined and devised by yours truly in one of those moments). I can bring the phrase "intrinsic motivation" into a reverberating proximity with this statement:
Rhetoric is a question of bringing valence to bear on the tautological.
A phrase such as "intrinsic motivation" is a perfect example of the more abstract principle. That is not a fault. It becomes easy to remember. And what is remembered can be more easily applied.

And the whole question of appropriately motivating students has a long tradition. For example, consider this wise observation from Montaigne's "Du pédantisme":
Or ce n'est pas assez que nostre institution ne nous gaste pas, il faut qu'elle nous change en mieux.
And a loose translation: it's not enough to be wasted ;)

And so for day 839
31.03.2009

Uncovering Cover Story

Just where is this photo from? All I know is that it dates from 1962 or 1963 and was taken in the vicinity of Soest, Germany. I believe it is a war memorial of sorts. I was so captured by its grace and composition that I incorporated it in the cover to Sense — that is me in front of the prone bronze.



Any help in tracing its origin much appreciated.

And so for day 838
30.03.2009

Soft Porn Period

At the height of the AIDS crisis many of us were keen on keeping the erotic alive. From the days of 1994 comes this soft porn snippet exchanged via email — words being viral in a safe sort of way.

a hand reached for the frayed crotch. it was a gnarled hand. rough. it met soft denim faded and weakened so often had hands and faces rubbed there. it was an experienced hand. forefingers slid down behind the buttons of the fly and using the powerful square thumb as a guide parted the cloth brushed knuckles against the curls. no underwear. cock still trapped in the jeans. heat rising. the hand was steady sure and in no hurry to tackle the belt buckle.

yanking gently but firmly his pubes twisting and coiling them round his fingers he moved to ensnare more. his eyes rose to meet the fluttering eyelids and the lips slightly tensed of the man he held entwined.

the tugging stopped. the eyes opened more fully. a recognition and a beckoning.
I think the lack of capitalization adds to the piece. gives it a kind of flow punctuated by those dots that remind me of the buttons on a pair of jeans. like acupuncture pressure points. or better yet a line pilfered from Merrill's "Days of 1964" — "Spangled as with fine sweat among the relics / Of good times had by all."

And so for day 837
29.03.2009

Letters Unreread

Grief is a great force. This anecdote struck me.

[...] and carefully gathered up all of David's letters to me. Once I was on the airplane, I methodically put the letters into order according to when they had been written; I decided to wait until I got to London, however, before reading them. The next day, in Hyde Park, when I sat down to read, I found I could get through only the first half of the first letter. I started sobbing uncontrollably. To this day I have neither reopened nor reread any of his letters.
Kay Redfield Jamison. An Unquiet Mind

And so for day 836
28.03.2009

Tâtonner

When I read this passage from William Matthews's contribtution to Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms I was put in mind of the French verb "tâtonner" and its cousin "tâter".

Of course the preceding paragraph is written with hindsight, rather than with the attentive bumbling and diligent indolence that accompany composition.
It's the "attentive bumbling" that caught me and the "diligent indolence" that retained my attention. But my reading slips and I read "occupy" for "accompany". —— attentive bumbling and diligent indolence that occupy composition...

And the thought of occupying with delight the space of composition recalls for me this passage
Composition, a being together in the same space, can become dialogue, a passing through the same space.

x responds to y

Indeed the coming together to occupy the same space for a matter of time can be conceived as a dialogue. To make a composition is to engage in dialogue.

from 2003 http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance/rockwell part of a conversation with Geoffrey Rockwell
Amazing what tricks memory can play when set to exploring mode of the light touch in search of the mot juste for "tâtonner".

And so for day 835
27.03.2009&

Tracing Sequences

I know I had not read Steve McCaffrey and/or bp Nichol before I worked on "Sorting and Storing". The whole chapter is devoted to the premise that "Narrative occurs where there is the reproduction of a sequence."

[T]he human self will project its self-making onto the world in order to generate stories from sequences and to break stories into recombinant sequences. Its operations on signs are material practices with consequences for world-making.

http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance/S6.HTM
Before that exploration/discovery there was "Emulations" which like McCaffrey and Nichol took on the ramifications of considering semiotic objects as machines.
3.42
What if the dimensions were not irremediably set in opposition? What if one considered sequence and figure to collaborate? One would face a machine. Every description as a state of being (configuration) possesses indexes translatable into questions for configuration's transformation (sequence). The nucleus of a narrative would be a description plus a question.

3.48
As a signature of desire, a question might modify a description, might modify itself or change nothing.
And so after these long years far from these moments of inquiry my mind smiles in recognition when I read in a selection from "The Book as Machine" (reproduced in A Book of the Book: Some Works & Projections about the Book & Writing edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Steven Clay) this key definition: "In the strictest sense the most comprehensive definition of narrative would be simply our sequential life experience." And in the next paragraph this restatement: "Gertrude Stein put is most simply when she pointed out that narrative was anyone telling anything to anyone at anytime."

Rothenberg and Clay source their 2000 excerpt from Steve McCaffrey & bp Nichol Rational Geomancy: The Kids of the Book-Machine. The Collected Research Reports of the Toronto Research Group 1973-1982 (Talonbooks, 1992). And the bibliography informs us of a first appearance as "TRG Research Report 2: Narrative Part 1 — The Book as Machine" in Open Letter, second series, no. 6 (fall 1973), pp. 113-120. I was 13 years old at the time of its appearance. But at the time I might not have twigged. Or not with the requisite degree of abstraction.

And so for day 834
26.03.2009

Tracking Abstracting

I had undoubtedly read Houston A. Baker Jr.'s Workings of the Spirit: The Poetics of Afro-American Women's Writing before I wrote this

Abstraction is good. Clear communication about abstraction better. One is of the life of the mind. The other, of the life of the mind in a body.

from the opening lines of "Axioms" the first chapter of Sense: orientations, meanings, apparatus
My copy of Baker's book still has a slip inserted to mark the spot (p. 73) where this appears: "Abstraction demands not concretization or reification but relation and relationship." And it is ever tempting to abstract that sentence from its context which is a discussion of space and architecture.

But at this remove... I refrain.

I am still pondering "relation and relationship" — how they relate to each other.

And so for day 833
25.03.2009

Bubbling Branches

Douglas Barbour. Breath Takes

branches of the mothering tree of life
from "breath ghazal 59:" which has the annotation "Barrier Reef Snorkeling" which of course speaks to the profusion of the coral; evidently mothering signals birthing on a grand scale; it also has hints of the shape of the coral — since mothering is also the frothing on fermenting liquids. Earlier in the conjunction with water there is a similar play of multiplicity and the cumulative effect of small units. "breath ghazal 23:" [the announcing and breaking colons in these titles are Barbour's]
huge drops kiss the lake
drum lightly on the roof above our heads
And configured throughout the series of the ghazals are representations of inhaling and exhaling, a whole onomatopoetc vocabulary of breathing, and they too like the coral and like the rain drops punctuate the text. And yet the reader doesn't drown.

And so for day 832
24.03.2009

Noise Forms Poetry

poetry is born in noise
That is not quite what she said/wrote. In the Afterword to The Crisp Day Closing on My Mind which is itself given a title: "Those Mysteries of Which We Cannot Plainly Speak".
Poetry always involves play, getting pleasure out of noise one produces; poetry also usually involves a belief in the power of these noises. Perhaps not in the power of these noises to produce food, but perhaps in their power to uplift the spirit, enlarge perception, influence opinion. And perhaps sometimes in their power to evoke complexities and mysteries of which we cannot plainly speak. But poetry begins as noise.
M. Travis Lane (Laurier Poetry Series, 2007). And from Form. A Series (Book Thug, 2011) by Mark Truscott I hereby quote and invert two paragraph/stanzas.
Truth is impossible without an acknowledgement of noise.

FORMAL DISTORTION is characterized by noise. Noise is a hint toward the mechanisms of form. Noise is in fact form's ground and necessary condition.


And so for day 831
23.03.2009

Early Ongoing Learning

Adrian Miles put the case eloquently for treating play with due respect.

Indeed. For all the rhetoric about student based learning and the rest of it at the end of the day it largely is about providing an environment that legitimates all the best qualities of play. It is serious (play is the most serious activity we every do), encourages risk taking, experimentation, exploration, and discovery.
June 21, 2004 http://vogmae.net.au/vlog/2004/06/from-fibreculture/ which I hereby cross-reference with Norman Brosterman Inventing Kindergarten.

And so for day 830
22.03.2009

Puncture

Anthony Hecht in the third section of "Meditation" engages in speculative ekphrasis, that is the description of an imaginary painting in which appear a madonna surrounded by saints. On one side is St. John the Baptist and

Across from him, relaxed but powerful,
Stands St. Sebastian, who is neither a ruse
To give a young male nude with classic torso
Into an obviously religious painting,
Nor one who suffers his target martyrdom
Languidly or with a masochist's satisfaction.
He experiences a kind of acupuncture
I read an ironic note with the introduction of Chinese healing technique in this description. (The word sticks out like a pin.) Of course "acupuncture" rhymes with "rapture" and so might explain the continuation:
He experiences a kind of acupuncture
That in its blessedness has set him free
To attend to everything except himself
There is an odd sort of self-cancellation at work here. In a tingling fashion.

Complete text of the poem appears in Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms edited by David Lehman.

And so for day 829
21.03.2009

Cartographic Epithets

There is a wonderful set of epithets that one encounters in reading an essay by John Koethe (poet and philosopher) found in the collection Poetry at One Remove. Here they are lifted out of context — with a slight misquotation:

islets of memory and estuaries of desire
These are placed in parallel to "thoughts" and "feelings". And for you to judge how they sharpen the figure offered for the relation between subject and representation, here is the complete sentence:
The experience of the condition of extremity of the perspectival subject, then, is one of the dissipation of this sense of the private character of experience and of a correlative expansion of the sense of the possibility of a completely objective version of the world, which would locate "our" thoughts and feelings, inlets of memory, and estuaries of desire unproblematically on a map of the world and still leave no aspect uncharted.
I find the shift from "inlets" to "islets" telling as to how I regard the relation between thoughts and feelings. Koethe would use the water metaphor throughout and I long for a harbour.

One of us is more prepared to inhabit the sublime longer. Do see the collection for some further remarks about poetry, subjectivity and the sublime.

And so for day 828
20.03.2009

Arrangements

Brian Fawcett in an essay on Robin Blaser entitled "Robin and Me; The New American Poetry and Us" [Yes that is a semi-colon after "Me"] offers this as one of the things that he learnt

I learned that real thinking and writing is more about orchestration of materials than creativity. Your task, whether as a poet or novelist or scholar or union researcher or urban planner, is to integrate your own intelligence with the active intelligence around you to enhance articulation. You are not here to impose your signature on a set of materials, raw or cooked, human or inanimate. You are here to discover both their essential and detailed truth, and to then put both into action politically and personally.
As befits a good pattern maker, the theme is exemplified in the way the final anecdote is told:
I wasn't present for his last hours, nor did I attend the funeral. I'd said my final goodbyes during that three hours I spent with him, knowing full well that he was going to forget what I said to him within minutes. I told him that I loved him, and that I was lucky to have been a part of his very large world. He accepted my expression of gratitude as I expected him to. He said, "It was nothing."

Before I could protest — it had not been nothing; it had been the gift of a much larger world than I would have had without him &mdash he looked into my eyes and added, "but you're welcome."
Note the appearance of the semi-colon. A mark of a linking hiatus.

And so for day 827
19.03.2009

Ritual

Frye on Frazer. Frye situates art between magic (work) and religion (belief).

A ritual, in magic, is done for practical purposes, to make the crops grow, to baffle enemies, to bring rain or sunshine or children. In religion, a ritual expresses certain beliefs and hopes and theories about supernatural beings. The practical results of magic don't work out; religious beliefs disappear or change in the twilight of the gods. But when deprived of both faith and works, the ritual becomes what it really is, something made by the imagination, and a potential work of art
Reminds one of Vico. From Northrop Frye on Sir James Frazer (a CBC talk in the series Architects of Modern Thought). The situation of ritual "between" magic and religion is to be questioned. The between situation is suggested because magic and religion are figured to fall away from ritual ("when deprived of both") by an act that is almost like the shedding of husks. And what is left is the seed, for the quotation continues: "As that, it can grow into drama or romance or fiction or symbolic poetry." And of course against this invocation of the organic may be opposed the machinic and the assembled. Just as one may distinguish the ritual from the ceremony.

And so for day 826
18.03.2009

Numbers Game

Stan Persky in commenting on an untitled poem by Robin Blaser published in Don Allen's 1960 anthology The New American Poetry writes

At the same time, "a few men will come to mind" has two more meanings that are to be be found in the double sense of the verb "to mind," as meaning both "to attend" and "to object." When the poet pays death's duty, a few of the men and women he knew will come to attend his death. They will be his "minders" at the ceremonies of death, as they were in his life and during the process of his dying. Finally, a few of those he knew will "mind" that he died, that is, they will object to, be troubled by, and mourn his death.
A few of a few is a smaller number. And it is this shrinking that contrasts nicely with the increase in activity: objecting, being troubled, mourning, minding. "Reading Robin Blaser" the essay from which this excerpt is taken appears in Robin Blaser by Stan Persky and Brian Fawcett.

And so for day 825
17.03.2009

Tracking Pips

This haiku

smashed watermelon
punctuating long last notes
oak galls & crickets
went through many permutations:
oak galls & crickets
long last notes of a summer
passing past crushed watermelon
oak galls & crickets
long last notes of a summer
passing past watermelon crushed
oak galls & crickets
passing long last notes past
watermelon crushed
oak galls & crickets
passing past long last notes
watermelon crushed
And by some leap we get "smashed" and "punctuating".

And so for day 824
16.03.2009

Acute Hearing

Apparently if you close your eyes...

Water is never silent when it moves. Brooks babble, streams burble, and a larger, slower river has deeper, more complicated things to say. Great rivers speak at low frequencies, too low for human ears to hear, too low even for dogs' ears to pick up their words; and the River of Time told its tales at the lowest frequencies of all, and only elephants' ears could listen to its songs. However, the Elephant Birds' eyes were shut. Elephant eyes are small and dry and don't see very far at all. Eyesight would be of no use in the search for the River of Time.
From a description of the Elephant Birds in the magical adventure Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie.

And so for day 823
15.03.2009

World-Making Words

Northrop Frye. The Great Code: The Bible and Literature. I am tempted to be seduced by the tale he tells in a before and after fashion ...

[...] when we speak of the subject of a book. These are puns, but puns can give useful clues to the way we relate words to experience. It is not a difficult step from here to the feeling, often expressed in contemporary criticism and philosophy, that it is really language that uses man, and not man that uses language. This does not mean that man is being taken over by one of his own inventions, as in science-fiction stories of malignant computers and self-reproducting robots. It means rather that man is a child of the word as well as a child of nature, and that, just as he is conditioned by nature and finds his conception of necessity in it, so the first thing he finds in the community of the word is the charter of freedom.
On a previous reading I thought what was at stake was the nature - world opposition. However, the text seems rather to pit nature against word. But that is a retrospective tension created by the freedom-necessity pair. And reading again closely one finds on one side a "conception" and on the other a "charter". Somehow the prose generates a space outside either freedom or necessity, a place caught up in neither conceptions nor charters. Things at play in the world. A word bubbling but never surfacing.

And so for day 822
14.03.2009

Epiphany

Bill T. Jones

While Amsterdam had shown me that I didn't know very much about many things, it did teach me that freedom was worthless without the focus of some passion other than pleasure. I knew that I wanted to make something, something important. I chose dancing as way to make it.
It is the phrase "freedom without focus" (which is not exactly in the text) that caught my attention. And at the end of copying the passage I realize that there is a need for a period of aimless freedom before settling into passion-focused activity.

And so for day 821
13.03.2009

Horizontals

It is the title of an opera by Robert Wilson that resounds in my mind as I lay down here a quotation from Aaron Shurin's "Generation" piece which concludes Unbound: A Book of AIDS. The title: the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down. The quotation:

[B]ut the radical size of these toppled beings was commanding. You never see them horizontally where their enormity can be measured human-scale. They were at once desperately, environmentally, evolutionarily sad, like beached whales, and gawkingly thrilling. A hundred years lost, but the integrity with which their falling rewrote the landscape drew me to their monumental sides again and again to gape.
After a storm, even the devastation has a beauty.

And so for day 820
12.03.2009

Galloping Enjambement

John Thompson. Stilt Jack. A collection of ghazals which the author reminds us in his preface are a genre that "proceeds by couplets which [...] have no necessary logical, progressive, narrative, thematic (or whatever) connection." To my surprise Thompson uses enjambement in some of his ghazals. This shakes my expectations for no connections. It finds its full force in number XX where the continuation runs over not only the lines within a couplet but between couplets. The effect is astounding.

Grief the knife, joy
the vulnerable bread.

Eat, let the blade
surprised by joy.
Technically that is not an enjambement between the couplets. But it sure is a continuation of theme. As such it is pleasantly jarring in the context of a ghazal.

And so for day 819
11.03.2009

Coda Code

Aaron Shurin. Unbound: A Book of AIDS. References at one point Proust and a passage where one character muses upon the melancholy overtones of saying "you look as young as ever". And this sensitivity is evident in Shurin's own glosses:

I'd heard about S but I hadn't seen him yet. When I did see him I asked him, "How are you feeling?" He looked at me — about to disclose his diagnosis — tilted his head quizzically — then realized because I'd asked not How are you but How are you feeling, that I already new.
And in the final pages of the book we encounter another situation where words also convey the unsaid:
"It's good to see you," he said pointedly, far more direct than either of us expected, "I mean there's so few of us left. It's good to see you still around," by which he meant "alive."
And this caring parlance takes wing and at this late remove can be figured with the trope that closes the book with "a series of substitutions which stand for flight" and the beautifully ambiguous phrase that "The wind takes them all." But it is worth pausing before the list:
The famous San Francisco sun has turned to famous rain. A reminiscent wind has whipped up, strewing the gleaming street with papers and leaves, anything that rises. I imagine a series of substitutions which stand for flight: black crow, broomstick, milkweed, vapor trail, pterodactyl, red balloon, oak pollen, helicopter, luna moth, dust mote, box kite, June bug, rocket man, gazelle. The wind takes them all.
But not all at once.

And so for day 818
10.03.2009

Eros Voice Echo

D.A. Miller in Bringing Out Roland Barthes has but two bottom of the page notes. Although pages apart they can be read in unison. The second is a longish quotation reporting on the quality of Barthes's voice.

Guy Scarpetta, having visited Barthes's seminar, recorded this impression: "I was at once struck by the marked contrast between his words and his voice. Albeit the content of his discourse was abstract, semiological, 'scientific,' the voice itself never ceased being eroticized: warm, deep, slow-paced, cajoling, velvety, modulated (Casals playing Bach on the cello): it was with his voice that he would cruise. I immediately sensed that most of his auditors, male and female, so intensely submitted to the charm (the 'obtuse meaning'') of his voice that they ended by savoring it for itself, almost independently of what it said. A kind of 'extra,' this voice grazed them, disturbed them, enveloped them, seduced them — to the point of excitation pure and simple."
And the one note that preceded this
Consider how the two semantically opposed, morphologically identical words, effeminate and emasculate (in French efféminé and émasculé), instead of together defining a state of genderlessness, synonymously converge in a single attribute that may be predicated only of men.
Unconnected and widely spaced apart. Challenges me even further to find other voices that occupy different gender positions and who enchant, charm, and yes, seduce. Nicole Brossard comes to mind.
“Elle le fait d’une voix ferme, sans ornements ni déclamation, dans un registre légèrement supérieur à celui de sa voix normale. Il y a là presque un chant, mais retenu, et soumis à une tension, un risque, une inquiétude.” -Pierre Nepveu in his introduction to Brossard’s A tout regard
via Jane Cope http://travelcoat.tumblr.com/

And so for day 817
09.03.2009

Trance and Chance

What arrested my attention was how the growing distance between gesture and its spoken description leads to a performable piece. Let's let Bill T. Jones explain as he has with Peggy Gillespie in Last Night on Earth.

I began to make solo works drawing upon my mother's and father's penchant for narration [...] My mother's praying was the first theater I ever saw [...] In the first part of the dance, I repeated an improvised gesture until it was set — mastered. then I began to describe my movements as I performed them. Through repetition, the gesture and its spoken description slowly changed. I relished these changes — exaggerated them, in fact, until the movement and its description were related by only the freest association. While performing this evolutionary piece, I found that I entered a trancelike state [... described by critic Arlene Croce as a tizzy ...] This "tizzy" is something I have claimed as an inheritance. Perhaps in her experience it did not seem genuine, or perhaps it seemed too genuine — embarrassing, even — but for me it is an integral part of the strategy that allows me to make art.
In the forward to the book, Bill T. Jones thanks Peggy Gillespie for "her masterful blend of focussed passion and tactful prodding". It is a description that is also suited to his style.

And so for day 816
08.03.2009

Arson

After some two hundred pages, the reader who has read the introduction is rewarded by the anticipated description of destruction by fire. Bonus: the protagonist sets aside the implements of a would-be suicide and out of sight of the burning structure lights a fire of a different sort.

Then I noticed the pack of cigarettes in my other pocket. I took one out and started smoking. I felt like a man who settles down for a smoke after finishing a job of work. I wanted to live.
Yukio Mishima. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Translated by Ivan Morris.

And so for day 815
07.03.2009

Vinyl

This is a bit more than nostalgia for a past technology.

My dad had listened to vinyl long after the invention (and intervention, if you asked him) of CDs. He told me once that it all came down to sound quality, "the texture of the sound" is the phrase he used, though I have no idea what that really means. He liked the objects themselves liked to hold a record in his hand, place it onto the turntable, position the needle into the groove. He used to lie on the couch in the living room with his headphones on, eyes closed, hands clasped on his chest, listening. He sometimes bought two copies of a single album, one to play, the other to store, to keep in its finest form.
From Michael Murphy A Description of the Blazing World this small excerpt encapsulates in a tiny space the theme of duplication that is the motor of this novel's exposition. And it is no coincidence that the duplication is connected to the figure of the father.

And so for day 814
06.03.2009

Metaphysics of Possibility

In revisiting her Earthsea world, Ursula K. LeGuin invites the reader to ponder how notions such as equality hang on the vision one has of the afterlife. This passage for me is peculiarly compelling with its echoes of Lucretius.

"I think," Tehanu said in her soft, strange voice, "that when I die, I can breathe back the breath that made me live. I can give back to the world all that I didn't do. All that I might have been and couldn't be. All the choices I didn't make. All the things I lost and spent and wasted. I can give them back to the world. To the lives that haven't been lived yet. That will be my gift back to the world that gave me the life I did live, the love I loved, the breath I breathed."
From the novel, The Other Wind. This in contrast to a land of the dead where the shades roam without engaging encounters, without intercourse and exchange. A good part of this later novel is about releasing the dead — not only an intriguing premise but also a fascinating story.

And so for day 813
05.03.2009

Island Apostrophes

Madeline Miller (Song of Achilles) led me to read Mark Merlis (An Arrow's Flight) which led me to Sophocles Philoctetes where I came across the beginning of an incantation:

Caverns and headlands, dens of wild creatures
you jutting broken crags, to you I raise my cry —
which reminded me of Prospero's speech in Act V of Shakespeare's The Tempest ("Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and graves [...]").

The Shakespearean reminder in the Ancient Greek play seems odd until one discovers that the translator, David Grene, also authored Reality and the Heroic Pattern: Last Plays of Ibsen, Skakespeare, and Sophocles. Grene doesn't offer any direct comparisons between the plays. However it is in reading the separate pieces on each of the plays that the obvious strikes me: both Prospero and Philoctetes are leaving islands. And it is but a hop in the intertextual sea to find this passage from Ursula K. Le Guin The Farthest Shore where in a fictional universe depicting a whole archipelago, the narrator at one point in the action makes this global remark:
So when one stands in a cherished place for the last time before a voyage without return, he sees it all whole, and real, and dear, as he has never seen it before and never will see it again.
And some who so stand are moved to poetry and animate the land with spirit.

And so for day 812
04.03.2009

Word of the Day

Alison Bechdel in Fun House has a pane which I thought was a typescript of a term paper with a floating text box obscuring part of the text of the "term paper", said floating text box encapsulates a tender remark ("We had had our Ithaca moment"). What catches the attention is a marginal inscription rendered as handwriting (I thought it was a comment from the marker of the said "term paper"). The marginal inscription replicates a word and adds a question mark: obtunding? And the word is underlined where it appears in the body of the "term paper". Turns out that the term paper is the text of James Joyce Ulysses which is discovered by running the key sentence through a search engine.

Both admitted the alternately stimulating and obtunding influence of heterosexual magnetism.
What is really clever is that Bechdel uses the key elements of the sentence to introduce the next plane. In the space and lettering style reserved for the narrative voice the elements are recast:
In our case, of course, substitute the alternately stimulating and obtunding influence of homosexual magnetism.
The reuse of the word incites one to look up the meaning and further enjoy the overcoding moment.

And so for day 811
03.03.2009

White

A lingering question about the production of white paper in sixteenth century England made me very attentive to the following description of vellum production in an earlier period. This description is from Stephen Greenblatt The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.

The finest parchment, the one that made life easier for scribes and must have figured in their sweetest dreams, was made of calfskin and called vellum. And the best of the lot was uterine vellum, from the skins of aborted calves. Brilliantly white, smooth, and durable, these skins were reserved for the most precious books, ones graced with elaborate, gemlike miniatures and occasionally encased in covers encrusted with actual gems
My lingering question arouse from having read Emily Smith's "Genre’s “Phantastical Garb”: The Fashion of Form in Margaret Cavendish’s Natures Pictures Drawn by Fancies Pencil to the Life" which appeared in Early Modern Literary Studies 11.3 (January, 2006). Smith argues that, in the text in question, female characters move from describing and displaying dress sense (as a mode of self-presentation) to writing as a form and venue for self-fashioning. Her argument holds well (the trajectory from fashion to discourse is indeed a motif and is fascinating in its recurrence). However I quibble with one point: Smith writes that Lady Deletia's white gown is described as being "as white as paper" ("Through this gown, as white as paper and overwritten in silver embroidery with unintelligible yet divine signs, Lady Deletia’s body is written into being as something nearly divine in its spectacular beauty."). This certainly adds credence to Smith's account. In 2006, I emailed Smith at the address provided by the article but never received a reply. I asked "Is the simile yours or that of Margaret Cavendish?" I thought at the time that there might be an inadvertent anachronism since I wondered if bleached paper was available to the Duchess of Newcastle. I now realize, having consulted the text in question, that I was off track. There is mention of white paper in the text by Cavendish [and mention of white gowns but no mention of gowns as white as paper]. The link between attire and writing is implicit and passes via the figure of adornment. Cavendish has a character exhort:
Let me admonish you to be devout to the Name of great Fame, who is able to save or damn you: Wherefore be industrious in your Actions; let no opportunity slip you, neither in Schools, Courts, Cities, Camps, or several Climates, to gain the Favour of great Fame; offer up your several Conceptions upon her white Altars (I mean white Paper), sprinkling Golden Letters thereon; and let the Sense be as sweet Incense to her Deity.
For an impression of just how difficult it was to produce white paper from rags in the sixteenth century, one can consult Timothy Barrett, "European Papermaking Techniques 1300–1800". I am particularly arrested by the factors that touch upon contact with the human body...
It is worth exploring the role washing soaps, diet, and personal hygiene may have played in affecting the nature of these old hempen and linen rags before they came to the paper mills. For instance, Fernand Braudel tells us that Europeans appear to have bathed less and less from the fifteenth and into the seventeenth century, and that public baths became less prevalent after the sixteenth century.
Unfortunately the historical traces are long gone but some speculative reconstruction and experimentation in paper making would be fascinating.

And so for day 810
02.03.2009

Processing Ore

Hesperus has a lovely edition of Proust and Ruskin On Reading. Included in this edition is the lecture "Sesame and Lilies" by Ruskin with notes by Proust. In one passage Ruskin is discussing the difficulty of reading wise men who "always hide their deeper thought". Proust comments at length and concludes:

Only desire and love give us the strength to make this effort; the only books we incorporate into ourselves are those we read with a genuine appetite, after having struggled to procure them for ourselves, so great was our need for them.
Proust turns the reader towards alimentary metaphors from what announces in Ruskin an extended conceit built on metallurgy.
There seems, to you and me, no reason why the electric forces of the earth should not carry whatever there is of gold within it at once to the mountain tops, so that kings and people might know that all the gold they could get was there; and without any trouble of digging, or anxiety, or chance, or waste of time, cut it away, and coin as much as they needed. But Nature does not manage it so. She puts it in little fissures in the earth, nobody knows where: you may dig long and find none; you must dig painfully to find any. [...] And, keeping the figure a little longer, even at cost of tiresomeness, for it is a thoroughly useful one, the metal you are in search of being the author's mind or meaning, his words are as the rock which you have to crush and smelt in order to get at it. And your pickaxes are your own care, wit and learning; your smelting furnace is your own thoughtful soul.
One is tempted to think of reading as a kind of mining and of writing as a species of hoarding. But the need for refining in the figure traced by Ruskin militates against an easy picking of amassed treasure. And so Proust's turn to the alimentary figure is kin to the work of forge and crucible. As Jay Parini writes "There is also a stragne but unmistakable connection between cooking and writing — writing, like cooking, is a bringing together of elemental substances for transmutation over a hot flame." (from Some Necessary Angels excerpt in A Slice of Life)

And so for day 809
01.03.2009