Companions

Thanks to the generosity of Myrna Levy a copy of the Nelson reader Magic and Make-Believe is housed in the Lillian H. Smith Collection. Within its pages I found a delightfully engaging list of possible pets. Tagged as enriched content, the poem by Judith Lawrence of puppet fame (Casey and Finnegan from Mr. Dressup) has me hankering to inhabit the fictional world spun out of the work of Anne McCaffrey of the Dragonriders of Pern fame and there is of course that most marvellous tribute to McCaffrey by Samuel R. Delany in Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand where the hunt turns out to be connecting one's consciousness with the flying dragon which is followed afterward by the appropriate response: singing of the experience. Mind blowing. Well before all this sci-fi, I apparently soaked up an appreciation for dragons from my school reader via Judith Lawrence's poem.

The Pet for Me

Some people like a dog
To play around the house.
Some people like a kitten,
A hamster, or a mouse.
Some people keep a fish
In a bowl made of glass.
Some people like a bird
That whistles when they pass.

But I would like a dragon
With red, shinning eyes —
A friendly green dragon,
Just my size!
Wouldn't you?!

And so for day 1204
31.03.2010

Renga Signatures

Autour de l'affaire Yasusada

Those who cry foul over the Yasusada seem to feel that his imaginary life toys with historical veracity and authenticity of a profoundly painful event [...] But in the stress given to the empirical they seem to forget that empathy, commemoration, and memory are not reducible to the positivistic "accuracies" of history — for these aspects of human response are often nourished by the mythic indirectness of imagination and its elaborations. These, in turn, also become history, and add [...]

Double Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada
... l'être du language n'apparaît pour lui-même, que dans la disparition du sujet.

Michel Foucault. "La Pensée du dehors" Critique No. 229 (June 1966)
The Yasusada affair, in the end, throws the politics of identity into question: the cherished liberal image of one marginalized group after another stepping from darkness into light, the parade of celebratory self-identification ("I am woman, hear me roar"; "Say it loud — I'm black and I'm proud"; "We're here, we're queer, get used to it"). Yasusada makes you wonder whether the twentieth-century radicals were really radical enough — whether the power to name oneself affirmatively, authentically, is enough to deliver a gender, race, or sexuality from subjugation. Whether, at the philosophical root, there's sufficient distance between minority pride movements and hegemonic self-celebration. Whether authenticity might be the sickness instead of the cure.

Alex Verdolini "Desert Music, Hiroshima: The Poetics and Politics of Pseudonymity" in Scubadivers and Chrysanthemums
"Radical empathy" seems not to include carrying the Yasusada part to its logical conclusion and, for example, purchasing a couple grams of plutonium from some renegade Soviet scientists in order to more authentically method-act the effects of Yasusada's radiation sickness. This is radical empathy without the hair loss and diarrhea, radical empathy as a problem of technique, as just one more aspect of "author function." But here I am launching an ad hominem attack against [...]

Dave Wojahn "Illegible Due to Blotching: Poetic Authenticity and Its Discontents" in Scubadivers and Chrysanthemums
The dream: to know a foreign (alien) language and yet not to understand it: to perceive the difference in it without that difference ever being recuperated by the superficial sociality of discourse, communication or vulgarity; to know, positively refracted in a new language, the impossibilities of our own; to learn the systematics of the inconceivable, to undo our own "reality" under the effect of other formulations, other syntaxes; to discover certain unsuspected positions of the subject in utterance, to displace the subject's topology; in a word, to descend into the untranslatable, to experience its shock without ever muffling it, until everything Occidental in us totters and the rights of the "father tongue" vacillate — that tongue which comes to us from our fathers and which makes us, in our turn, fathers and proprietors of a culture which, precisely, history transforms into "nature".

Roland Barthes translated by Richard Howard "The Unknown Language" Empire of Signs
At the end of the exhibit was a long, carpeted hall with a few televisions, each programmed to play an hour-long video of survivors' testaments. The survivors spoke Japanese, and their statements were translated below in English and French. For the entire hour, I sat and watched the videos. Person after person spoke, some with horrible disfigurements, some with a legacy of cancer, some looking untouched but deeply haunted. Here was horror and fear, grief, resignation, forgiveness, rage. I will never forgive America, one older gentleman said, practically spitting into the camera. I will never forgive a country that could commit such evil. His face contorted as he spoke. The glass windows behind me filled with sun, making it difficult to read the translation. I flinched and squinted. The video had captured a variety of responses to preserve some idea of what Hiroshima meant to the people who had experienced it: there was no one reaction, and though I knew each person speaking was a singular identity, I also understood that the collection of responses was meant to suggest that all of them together did compose a single identity, the identity of the Hiroshima survivor, a concept that did and did not exist. I forgive them. I despise them. I am suffering. I have made peace with it. They are evil. I was embarrassed, chagrined, stunned. I could not stop watching. There was nothing coy or elliptical in the phrases the speakers used. One after the other spoke: man, woman, man. They blended together, enraged and pained and haunted, a voice full or ruin. The video spooled and spooled. The effect of listening, even for a single hour, was agonizing.

Paisley Rekdal "Doubled Flowering: Charles Yu, Araki Yasusada and the Politics of Faking Race" in Scubadivers and Chrysanthemums
See also Hiroshima Mon Amour and the "cultural errors" identified by Donald Richie: the Japanese-language arrival and departure time announcements in the train scenes bear no relation to the time of day in which the scenes are set. Also, people pass through noren curtains into shops which are supposedly closed. The noren is a traditional sign that a shop is open for business and is invariably taken down at closing time. These are "errors" but also in one reading formal devices countering cinematic realism. Closed/open. Out of phase. Consider the ending of the 1978 film Coming Home where the Jane Fonda character goes in by the out door. Error is often a treasure.

And so for day 1203
30.03.2010

Dream Net Sound Shaping

To bend twigs, to compose.

The Music of William Benson CRI SD433 [1981]. The Dream Net [18' 10"] [Recorded at Eastman School of Music, 1978]. Frederick Hemke, saxophonist. Kronons Quartet, strings.

Notes from the album sleeve

The title, The Dream Net, came to me through the gift of a book from my friend, the composer Alec Wilder. The book was by Sigurd Olson, a naturalist who has written a number of times about canoeing the white-water rivers of North America. The particulars of the title relate to Indians gathering wild rice in Lake Superior and leaving their young children on the shore while they worked in canoes nearby. [There follows a description of the making of a contraption to amuse babies and the stories told to older children about the dream net and its filtering effects.] The fundamental composition problem was that of balancing the timbral distortion and tuning the saxophone multiphonic sonorities with the normal sounds of a string quartet. I attempted to do this through the use of variable vibrato, mixed vibrato speeds in the ensemble, quarter-tone intonations, glissandi, air noises in the saxophone and whispering noises in the strings, which are accomplished by bowing on pieces of paper. It was foremost in my mind that the significant effect of a multiphonic sonority was not necessarily the number of tones produced, but rather the change in timbre that seemed to occur during its production. I attempted to interpolate similar timbral resources in the string writing.
Compare the attention to "timbre" to care in positing the "dream net" so that its rotation yields the utmost "play" of light and shadow.

Note on the term "dream net" versus "dream catcher": in the Olson account as retailed by Benson the net lets the good through and filters out the negative; it doesn't trap.

And so for day 1202
29.03.2010

Disposing of Dispersal

Margaret Atwood (playing out the thematics of Victory Gardens) in the forward to A Breath of Fresh Air: Celebrating Nature and School Gardens (having cultivated the ground of morals and food production) snaps from the vine this set of observations on the period of post-War affluence:

There was an undeniable emotional charge to throwing stuff out. Scrimping, saving and hoarding make a person feel poor [...] filling up your garbage can with junk you no longer want makes you feel rich. Saving is heavy, discarding is light. Why do we feel this way? Once we were nomads, and nomads don't carry around grand pianos. They don't hoard food; instead they move to where food is. They leave a light footprint, as the green folk say. Well it's a theory.

But we can't all be nomads anymore. There isn't enough space left for that.
I like how the very notion of nomad-influence gets discarded. The writing is composting itself.

A couple of observations: she doesn't say we cannot be mobile. A Red Queen type of mobility sur place awaits us in our densed-up urban settings. Indeed at some level what we dispose of needs to develop velocity — needs to convert quicker (and in less space). The infrastructure of compost-creation leaves a heavy footprint. Industry plugs into local food.

Energy calculus. At play in the system will be a surplus of consumables — there will be food to waste (only so much hydroponic lettuce will find its way into our personal digestive track; a fair bit will provide roughage to the corporate waste management system). Cities will look to lock into their hinterlands their muck. Look up the history of "night soil".

Future civic deliberations will focus upon the feeding of The Machine and the speed of cycling with factions vying for the accumulation of value through speed up meeting the resistance of calls for equilibrium though respect for traditional time lines. Will we have to take the time to become light footprint leavers? Become not nomads but partakers of the potlatch — a coastal people in the islands of our metropolises?

And so for day 1201
28.03.2010

Index Card Passport

In green ink on an index card

From The New Yorker Oct 6, 2003 p. 31

in the Auctions and Antiques section

Art Deco

posters of Paul Colin, whose works appear as part of a show of French Art Deco posters from the collection of Jean Chassaing, spanning the years 1925 to 1932. The machine-driven energy of the age is the theme of posters by the great A.M. Cassandre; his theory that "travel is a geometric experience" is demonstrated in striking illustrations of trains, steamships, and (in an advertisement for "Cycles Brillant") a cyclist merging with his bicycle.
Loved his take on ingesting and becoming in the Dubonnet poster: the character becomes more colourful as he imbibes more ... dubo dubon dubonnet.

Sad to learn that in his final years he suffered from severe depression and killed himself in 1968. But the same biographical note that conveyed that fact also identified him as a designer of type.

I snuck over to the Linotype site and in a moment of narcissism test ran the font Cassandre designed: Peignot Light. Truly calligraphic in its play between "L" and "h" so like handwriting ... I was intrigued not so much by a narcissistic lapse but because the default text presented upon accessing the site is the name of the font itself with it so ever elegant H. A remarkable display font. Whatever colour the ink.

And so for day 1200
27.03.2010

Black Leather Jacket Hanging in a Closet

Found in an accordion file while listening to Vertigo by Groove Armada

Could-have-beens are an intensity to shape between men with eyes. Possibilities pushed. The best tops are sceptics. Brush your body. Fuck your mind.

Blinded. He can still see.

1/4/94
Living in a fish bowl during the plague years. Living. Unpacking the caches.

And so for day 1199
26.03.2010

Beasts and the Nature of Prayer

Robert Bringhurst

A typographic mind is just as alert to the invisible as to the visible. It is a mind with at least four feet: one in the visual, one in the manual, one in the lingual and one in the logical. Each of these feet has several toes: abstract, tactile, aural. Crickets, as you may know, have taste buds in their toes and ears in their front kneecaps. Typographers are equally bizarre. Their ears are in their eyes; their tongues are in their hands. It is their fingers more than their lips that constantly threaten to move as they read.

[...]

In simple terms, what drives the typographer is the existence of something to say. Or of something that speaks, if you like to put it that way. Typography is the sound of one hand speaking, vivid in the mind's eye, vivid in the mind's ear, and silent as a prayer.
The Typographic Mind issued as The Devil's Whim No. 16 by Gaspereau Press in 2006.

A typographer's prayer is of course addressed to the reader. And a pamphlet is an old form for a new idea — the hybrid sensory-swapping mind. What is here at play in world of typography reminds me of architectural renewals such at the Gladstone Hotel which has produced a nice postcard quoting Jane Jacobs (beautiful but marred by an unmodest claim of "Only at the Gladstone"): Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.

Consider silent prayer as idea-building as four-footed as the beasts of the typographic imagination.

And so for day 1198
25.03.2010

Snap Shot

Cliché : Phototype négatif servant au tirage des épreuves. (Larousse)

[T]he camera is not a machine, except when used mechanically.

Clarence John Laughlin in New World Writing #15
Last lines from David O'Meara "Loot" in A Pretty Sight

Every day soldiers come / to have their pictures / taken from the top / of the bullet-notched ziggurat, each click / an exhibit of the I was here, desert cam / lost in silhouette against the level, / ochre panorama of sand.
This is the difference between the barren and the baroque. This is the problem.

Notes on Conceptualisms. Vanessa Place & Robert Fitterman
Cliche: The word cliché is drawn from the French language. In printing, a cliché was a printing plate cast from movable type. This is also called a stereotype. When letters were set one at a time, it made sense to cast a phrase used repeatedly, as a single slug of metal. "Cliché" came to mean such a ready-made phrase. (Wikipedia)

And so for day 1197
24.03.2010

Brotherly Exposure

Bonnie Devine in the appreciation written for Daphne Odjig's 95th Birthday and included in the catalogue of the exhibition at Phillip Gevik's Gallery describes the painter's style:

Calligraphic, rhythmic in line, the forms emerge as if the artist's brush has never left the page but travelled in an unbroken movement across its face.
Devine notes that upon achieving this style, Odjig signs her birth name to her paintings. "She had found a compelling reason to paint and a profound source of inspiration. She began to sign her work with her birth name, Daphne Odjig."

One of my favourite pieces in the exhibition is a 1977 painting entitled The Brothers. Three smiling figures occupy the whole of the canvas. They look outward with big engaging smiles. And centred on each one is a stylized phallus built out of rippling waves echoing the ribbon of river that surrounds the three males. As a spectator one is captivated by the rhythmic joy of the moment. The painting reads as an exposure of benevolent power not only because of the presence of radiant smiles but also because the lines of the stylized phalluses cover the abdomens from the base of the perineum to the solar plexus thus depicting an expansive libidinal pleasure.

All this exuberance conveyed in acrylic on a 36" x 34" canvas. But with an artist's hand to see the forms emerge and an artist's eye to shape the dance of colour.

And so for day 1196
23.03.2010

Seep Age Drift Age

[...] l'être du language n'apparaît pour lui-même, que dans la disparition du sujet.

Michel Foucault "La Pensée du dehors" Critique No. 229 (June 1966)
Dispersal. Refiguration.

In the poetry of Edward Mycue, collected in Mindwalking 1937-2007, one comes to "Word Thumb" which is a paean to the songs and stories heard in a childhood family setting and lead the speaking voice to claim by poem's end
I carry in me a singing man my father gave me.
Note that it is not a father that "I" is carrying but a "singing man". Note too that as readers we have witnessed a performance of the singing man by reading the previous lines celebrating the "radiance of life's simple pleasures".

Inspired by Mycue, I look to my history with my own father to see what equivalent to a singing man I might have internalized. My fond memories turn to the beach. There I recall how I learnt to trust. Learning to swim alternated between trusting that my father would not only buoy me up should I begin to sink but also that he would in his wise way let go. It was an experience that repeated itself in learning to ride a bicycle.

The other condensable image that the beach trips gave me was the memorable experience of digging a hole and marvelling as it filled with water at its bottom. It's fine introduction to the penetrating power of water and water-like thoughts.

And the long walks along the beach in search of driftwood, I like to think have made me a patient hunter of treasure tossed up. Life's a beach.

Indeed it is this careful searching along the littoral that allowed me to come across Mycue's signature on the copyright notice page. Odd little bit that we set afloat again here like a note from a signing/singing man.

And so for day 1195
22.03.2010

Given Stolen

Citation is a form of kleptomania.

gives, a note to envalue
the day, stolen
I like how the poet in these two lines balances out the beginning of giving with the concluding of stealing. Of course, what snagged my attention was the use of "envalue" and I was left hovering over what it is that contributed value and what it was that received it.

More context on either side is revealing but also conducive to less allusiveness...
around a gift the old stereo
gives, a note to envalue
the day, stolen

from notions of winter
George Bowering. Another Mouth. "Last Lyrics: From the Mystery".

Citations are a form of endowment.

And so for day 1194
21.03.2010

Little Red Reading List

It was Roald Dahl and his Revolting Rhymes that set me on the course to consult variations. What did me in — was his mash-up of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood and Quentin Blake's illustrations capture the uproarious fun of [SPOILER ALERT] the fashion-conscious conclusion:

Ah Piglet, you must never trust
Young ladies from the upper crust
For now, Miss Riding Hood, one notes,
Not only has two wolfskin coats,
But when she goes from place to place,
She has a PIGSKIN TRAVELLING CASE.
And so I turned to the Virago Book of Fairy Tales Volume One edited by Angela Carter and found in the notes a useful reference to the work of Jack Zipes, The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood and a search by author led to Don't bet on the prince : contemporary feminist fairy tales in North America and England edited by Zipes which contains the poem "Little Red Riding Hood" by Olga Broumas which is found in her 1977 book Beginning with O where one finds a whole set of fairy-tale inspired meditations on the love between women. And so one reads about Sleeping Beauty awakened by the kiss of a woman. The kiss is related in a mode of defiance and as a challenge to recapture the colonized quotidian.
a sign of betrayal, your red
lips suspect, unspeakable
liberties as
we cross the street, kissing
against the light, singing, This
is the woman I woke from sleep, the woman that woke
me sleeping.
But back to Little Red Riding Hood. After an opening about the mother-daughter relationships mediated by placental imagery, Broumas concludes that poem with lines that jump from being on the look out for wolfmen to participating in a community of sexual intimates, the jump is there for the reader to see inscribed on the page
minded. I kept

to the road, kept
the hood secret, kept what it sheathed more
secret still. I opened
it only at night, and with other women
Broumas is a good place to begin in constructing a reading list devoted to women-women relationships and the fairy tale. One could add Malinda Lo's contribution to young adult fiction Ash. And it could even be argued that (SPOILER ALERT) that the kiss at the end of Disney's Maleficent recasts the intergenerational relation between women in a manner that is both more and less than a riff on mother-daughter patterns and certainly is a figure that arises from the nature of friendships propelled by initiation into a shared world. It would be interesting to see how "true love" translates to the novelization of the movie by Elizabeth Rudnick.

And so for day 1193
20.03.2010

Wit, Plots and Vegetative Results

Jay Macpherson in The Boatman and Other Poems presents a memorable tale of of one-upmanship and just deserts in "The Gardeners" where the poetic voice reports on a contrast. One gardener, a neighbour, "Worked herself to bone / Raising prize bokays / In a yard mostly stone". The spelling of "bouquet" as "bokays" adds a layer of what I perceive as snobbery to the prized beauties. The speaker meanwhile is rocking on the back stoop and notes that the neighbour would pass the following remark: "And she'd say my yard / Looked like a chicken-coop."

The last word in the next and final stanza of two reverses the judgement. Here it is in full. Enjoy its fancy.

Bet you she's raging
Over in her plot:
Nary a stalk but
Couchgrass she's got
Can't grow nothing better
On the likes of she,
But I lie pushing daisies
Fat and white as me.
Post-mortem fertility is an interesting cartoonish game to play and with a deft turn of rhyme easy to guarantee the appropriate comeuppance. And we all know that the easy rhyme comes from long exercising the craft — much like a devoted gardener.

And so for day 1192
19.03.2010

Invoking Evocation

Gregory Ulmer in Teletheory: Gramatology in the Age of Video brings the memoir work of N. Scott Momaday into conjunction with the schizo-analytic work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. The one is The Way to Rainy Mountain; the other, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. The explanation offered by Ulmer:

Deleuze and Guattari provided an argument for the authority of a nomadic approach to thought at an abstract level of argument. Momaday offers something more specific — a text about a nomadic people, about a journey, that shows how to bring into appearance, for ourselves, the imaginative register of materials we are likely to need in the process of invention.
Earlier Ulmer quotes from Momaday in the context of "attending to the multiple dimensions of thought". He quotes from the Prologue to The Way to Rainy Mountain. What he chooses to highlight reminds one of allegorical emblems with their multiple articulations of image and word. See ...
He [Momaday] insists upon the value of both [oral and written] traditions, which is another way of attending to the multiple dimensions of thought, for "the journey is made with the whole memory, that experience of the mind which is legendary as well as historical, personal as well as cultural. And the journey is an evocation of three things in particular: a landscape that is incomparable, a time that is gone forever, and the human spirit, which endures [...]".
Ulmer's ever so enticing dwelling upon the tripartite whets the appetite. One wants to see in situ what is incomparable, forever gone, and enduring. Explore more how spirit, time and landscape entwine. What informs this evocation of the three things is the figure of the journey and Momaday just prior to this is description of what is evoked appeals to an invocation of imagination.
The journey herein recalled continues to be made anew each time the miracle comes to mind, for that is peculiarly the right and responsibility of imagination.
"Treatise on Nomadology — The War Machine" is of a landscape and time incomparable and forever gone. This section out of Thousand Plateaus can endure through an act of imaginative reading, one that treats the text as a landscape. See ...
It is not the nomad who defines this constellation of characteristics; it is this constellation that defines the nomad, and at the same time the essence of the war machine. If guerrilla warfare, minority warfare, revolutionary and popular war are in conformity with the essence, it is because they take war as an object all the more necessary for being merely "supplementary": they can make war only on the condition that they simultaneously create something else, if only nonorganic social relations.
Towards the end of The Way to Rainy Mountain in the last of the numbered sections, Momaday leaves us with a way that is a way of reading
Once in his life a man ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon it. He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine [...]
And reading as Deleuze and Guattari make us experience is a form of warfare.

And so for day 1191
18.03.2010

Cock Tail

Hung over: overindulged alcoholic poets as I have waded through two thick biographies:

  • Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance by Lewis Ellingham and Kevin Killian
  • City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara by Brad Gooch
Cure: hair of the dog (not more biographies but a return to the poetry).

First a jigger full of from Frank O'Hara "Meditations in an Emergency" [which excerpt forms the epigraph to Gooch's bio of the New York poet]:
I can't even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there's a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life.
Add one big ice cube chunk from Spicer's After Lorca
Dear Lorca,
When I trannslate one of your poems and I come across words I do not understand, I always guess at their meanings. I am inevitably right. A really perfect poem (no one yet has written one) could be perfectly translated by a person who did not know one word of the language it was written in. A really perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary.
And why not add a garnish from Lorca "A Flood of Tears for Ignacio Sanchez Mjias" (translated by Carlos Bauer)?
At five in the afternoon
Stirred. Not shaken.

And so for day 1190
17.03.2010

Entrained

Jeffrey Donaldson's collection of poems Slack Action can at times mislead the reader into believing the author lacks a sense of polish and that there is ample room for tightening up the diction. But the sensitive reader may see in the initial poems bordering on verbose prose the imitation of the titular figure and following the recipe set out by the definition that graces the cover of Slack Action.

A railroading term, slack action refers to the degree of play that opens up in the couplings between moving cars. Loose coupling is often desirable to enable a train to bend around curves and is also an aid in starting heavy trains.
Halfway through the collection there is "More Than Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Listener" which from one perspective is organized like a train. Lots of short stanzas (from two to four lines), all compact and end-stopped, are capped by a bravura run on that takes us on a ride
Listeners at a reading are like a day
in late September, the Bruce Trail
on the escarpment near Grimsby

after the leaves have begun turning
and the air has a sour nip
because it rained that morning

and the colours are deeper
and richer than on the dry days,
and I can see the lake

off through the trees below me
with its heavy blue all the way out
and I keep still for a moment

and there is nothing like a wind
and you can hear a leaf drop
for there isn't a sound

and without a sound I cannot tell
without looking, whether I am
the listener at a reading, or it is.
Like a caboose that concluding "or it is" — attention grabbing but returning us by a long succession to the driver: a day in September in a particular landscape: a segment of the Niagara escarpment. The time and place is personified as a listener. And of course the reader of the poem is through the speaking voice (that "I") made to reflect upon that personification in an odd but compelling fashion for we too are like a landscape in a particular time — ready for a reading.

And so for day 1189
16.03.2010

A Vos Souhaits

On the Ides of March, perfect to document a very old joke.

Julius Sneezer: "Etchoo, Brute?"

This image reminds me of the line drawing illustrations in old Latin readers. It is from a coaster that I found. It may have belonged to a set. It was all by its lonesome and I thought deserved some recognition.

I have since discovered that the joke dates back at least to the 1940s in the United Kingdom from a cartoon strip named ""Julius Sneezer, the Sneezing Caesar". Catchy.

And so for day 1188
15.03.2010

Simile of Semiosis

Gregory Ulmer in his essay in The Anti-Aesthetic [ed. by Hal Foster] pointed to the distinction between allegoresis and allegory as marshalled by Maureen Quilligan. The Language of Allegory: Defining the Genre. [Cornell University Press, 1979].

The difference is characterized like a misread map with a determination to respect boundaries.

The inappropriate terminology of allegoresis (verticalness, levels, hidden meaning, the hieratic difficulty of interpretation) continues to contaminate the reader's appreciation of the peculiar processes and values of narrative allegory. Hunting for one-to-one correspondences between insignificant narrative particulars and hidden thematic generalizations, he is frustrated when he cannot find them and generally bored when he can. This state of affairs leads logically to Coleridge's strictures against an inorganic, mechanical, and thoroughly unappealing kind of literature.

We need to develop a new set of critical terms derived not from allegoresis but from the process of reading allegorical narratives. Only in his way can we hope to retrieve for intelligent reading and consideration that species of narrative we have called allegorical. And only by looking closely at individual narratives, without imposing any preconceptions on their paratactic development, shall we be able to trace the complicated patterns of interconnected meaning which spread like a web across their horizontal verbal surfaces. Then we may easily sense the essential affinity of allegory to the pivotal phenomenon of the pun, which provides the basis for the narrative structure characteristic of the genre. [32-33]
Later we encounter an overblown simile creating distance between fidelity and overinterpretation...
The nineteenth century is not the century of allegorical narrative; on the contrary, denoted [demoted?] in favor of "symbolism," allegory was labeled a mechanical contrivance of the "fancy" whereby an author with a thematic statement to make hunts down a serviceable vehicle and tows a veritable dirigible of overrriding meaning down an all too predictable road. This definition of allegory, which actually describes an analogy stretched as thin as it will go, was inherited by the twentieth century, and this definition is the one that recent books on the subject have sought to deflate. [193]
Note the word play on dirigible and deflate which is surely akin to the characteristic pivotal pun. I am interested however in the link between airship and the work of allegoresis which is a reading that according to Quilligan is absorbed in verticalness and levels of meaning whereas a critical reading of allegory is horizontal and attentive to the unfolding of story and ever complicating patterns of relationship. The "mechanical contrivance" is in a matter of speaking ideal for going higher and higher in raptures of interpretation but equally for going further and further over the horizon like an airship out of Verne or the anachronistic machinations of steampunk...

If allegoresis is reading as if allegory (a speaking otherwise) is involved, we have at play a certain ventriloquism. Reading as puppetry. And I for one am prepared to follow Quilligan in her interpretations, especially of Melville's The Confidence Man, to the point where allegory arrives in the end at an invitation to reflect upon the reader's act of reading which (and here I am extrapolating) is a type of encounter with the mask. The prime question in engaging literature (allegorical or not) is which face will I as reader prepare to face the quiddity before me. Where will the search end: what quiddity will I uncover or what mask drop, which face save?

And so for day 1187
14.03.2010

liminal deployments

An exhibition gave rise to an editorial.

Stanley Schmidt in "Technology and Taste" takes his cue from a travelling exhibition about the life and work of William Morris.

The Earthly Paradise: Arts and Crafts by William Morris and His Circle from Canadian Collections. / Le paradis terrestre. L'artisanat d'art selon William Morris et ses disciples dans des collections canadiennes.

Beginning by commenting on the ironies of artisan production being unaffordable to the working class, Schmidt goes on to argue that mass production has improved affordability and quality and that what stands in the way of realizing Morris's vision is not technology but the social and economic factors involved in its deployment. He observes:

Products of quite respectable quality can be made under decent working conditions and without wrecking the environment. Yes, shoddy workmanship, poor working conditions, and waste and pollution are still all too easy to find. But now the blame must be placed on manufacturers too cheap or unscrupulous to do things right not on the intrinsic inability of machines to do a decent job.
This from Analog April 1995. In the same issue of the magazine one finds a story by Julia Ecklar "The Human Animal" in which an explanation about how humans are animals and that we look the same from baby to adulthood, that is we do not progress from larvae to pupae to adult stage, is told to a race of beings with such distinct stages is interpreted as less about out nurturing instincts and more about insatiability:
You told her worse than that [...] You told her that humans are unChanged children, abominations who would feed themselves to the destruction of everything else around them. You told her that humans cannot be lived with or trusted.
Interesting take on what it may mean to grow up and live responsibly and do a decent job. Time to become changelings.

And so for day 1186
13.03.2010

Pearls, Stars and Selves

Lost selves found in symbol.

Fadi Abou-Rihan upon reading the entry about Gwendolyn MacEwen's translation of the Yannis Ritsos poem "Helen" suggested the play by Carole Fréchette Helen's Necklace. The play has been translated by John Murrell. As the back cover to the Playwrights Canada Press edition indicates "Helen's world is irrevocably changed by her search for a trinket." I like how the emphasis is not on loss but upon search.

The play is set in an unnamed Arabic city devastated by war. The play is built upon Helen's search for a lost necklace. In that search she encounters others who have lost far more: homes and children. Through these encounters she becomes more self-aware and eventually finds an appropriate symbol giving her more than what she has lost.

One important stage in this quest, is the exchange of names. In this process, Helen references her namesake of Troy.

Helen: Your name? My name is Helen.

Nabil: Ellen?

Helen: No, Helen, like the woman who caused the war. You understand?

Nabil: The war?

Helen: Some people say she was just a plaything of the gods, that it wasn't really her fault, but others say she was guilty, and that she was just a responsible for what happened as if she had wanted it to happen. Helen of Try. You understand?

Nabil: You are "Helen of Troy," yes?

Helen: No. Just Helen. Helen of the North. Helen who didn't cause a war. Helen who doesn't know anything about war. And you are? ... Mounir? Walid? Youssef?

Nabil: Nabil.
Helen who must learn about the aftermath of war if she is to recover that which she has lost if only in a symbolic fashion. She eventually finds her way to the sea's edge and there as footprints vanish in the wet sand she comes to this realization:
On the frothy crest of a wave, all of a sudden I see my necklace appear for a moment, something ridiculously small and delicate which boils up for a moment and evaporates just as quickly. I reach out to grab it. Ridiculous. My arm is much too short. I close my hand around emptiness, like that. I open my fist. Nothing.
This is not the end of the play but is the end of misprision. Around this kernel of nothing springs greater understanding.

Fréchette's play reminds me of a Heine poem "Das Meer hat seine Perlen" to be found in German and various translations including English ones at LiederNet. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow turned his hand at a version and his begins:
The sea hath its pearls,
The heaven hath its stars;
Heine's poem ends in a moment of plenitude akin to a dissolution. See it here rendered by Emma Lazarus
My heart, and the sea, and the heavens
Are melting away with love.
A fate similar to the pearls of Helen's Necklace.

And so for day 1185
12.03.2010

The Great Through The Small

There are these lines from the handsome edition (designed by Tim Inkster and typeset at The Coach House and published by Exile Editions) of Gwendolyn MacEwen's translation of Helen, a poem by Yannis Ritsos, these lines that take on the mystery of what is remembered...

Now and again I can still sense that aroma — I mean, I remember it;
isn't it strange? — those things we usually consider great, dissolve, fade away —
[...]
some other things remain, unimportant, meaningless things; I
     recall seeing one day
a bird perching on a horse's back; and that baffling thing
seemed to explain (especially for me) a certain beautiful mystery.
And between these two observations is a description of a necklace sent to Helen. The necklace which our speaker claims as being forgotten came to her after the slaughter of Clytemnestra, a necklace she never wore but is able to describe in minute detail "made / from small golden masks, held together by links / from the upper tips of their ears". What would appear to be a dichotomy between the great and the meaningless becomes upon closer examination a relation of accessibility: access to the great comes through remembering small details. It is all that remains.

And so for day 1184
11.03.2010

From Framework to Frame

Amusing anecdote.

Jonathan Warren. "The Lessons of the Living Dead: Marcel's Journey from Balbec to Douville-Féterne in Proust's Cities of the Plain: Part Two". Studies in 20th Century Literature Volume 19, Number 2, Summer 1995.

Note 5

I am grateful to François Lachance who first suggested the alignment of Lot's wife and Kristevan statuary character to me.
How I did so involved a wee bit of mischief. I was one of the translators of Julia Kristeva's lectures for the Special Seminar in Comparative Literature: Proust and Perceptible Time held at the Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Toronto, in 1992. I dutifully translated but added a running set of footers (very easy to do in a document-centred program like Wordperfect; less so in a page-centred program like Microsoft Word). Sometime later I published those running footers as lines in a poem called Metropole in Tracking the Remembrance of Touch. The lines reference Lot's wife as "but a pile / of dysfunctional electrolytes / the unnamed wife" and make of her a forerunner of Antigone who also is not named in the poem. The poem also plays with the notion of foreclosure. As I recall Jonathan was a student in the seminar and liked the trick with the footers and he very kindly sent me an autographed off-print of his article which has surfaced among my Proust books and led me to recall those days of the early 90s where and when we worked the interstices.

And so for day 1183
10.03.2010

Directions Separations

In this odd little text set in courier there is a neat trick of severing words with «guillemets» (French quotation marks). There are only two instances.

(details, the rest

s » weep
The next and final instance swerves almost to rewind.
I was s « aying
what is interesting is that in this boundary challenging use of quotation (never really opening or closing) nathalie stephens in Species: Ex(hib)it is working through a kind of s ‹ addness to arrive at yes and affirmations and a set of ampersands & & & built upon syllables so s ‹ light and labile

And so for day 1182
09.03.2010

Fluctuations in Verbal Moods

What struck me in the poetry of Alice Burdick is the mixing of verbal moods. She shifts within one poem or another between the indicative and the imperative. I will not quote her but will note here that the title of one of her collections (Flutter) can be read both as a noun describing a type of action and as a verb inciting us to that action. Instead here is a little homage.

Water freezes.
Freeze water.

To observe
To intervene
What I have learnt in in the end is that what subtends the shifting between imperative and indicative is the infinitive. And what one learns from the surreal moments of Burdick's poetry is fluidity in even the what appear to be the most stable monuments. Monument betokens movement. Burdick launches us as she arrests. Witness the ending of "I circuit hot foot"
All closed doors shall eventually open. Stale time shall go. Corners of dust shall release old secrets into tunnel of sunshine. Large murderous buildings shall tilt and bend and lighten up. Why did we take it all so seriously?
We are frozen as we freeze. Erode is the principal mode.

And so for day 1181
08.03.2010

Taming the Cultural Beast

Adam Gopnik in The Museum Today (Eva Holtby Lecture on Contemporary Culture No. 1) adopted for a piece in Walrus as "The Mindful Museum" arrives at his masterful proposal for the experience and the institution through a contrast between two types.

The secular ritual of museum-going historicizes art, even as it humanizes anti-art.
The key here is "secular ritual" and what follows is a sort of "apprivoisement" which to the discerning eye is not the equivalent of domesticization.

And so for day 1180
07.03.2010

Naming Names

It was upon a second reading of Mark Merlis American Studies that it struck me that a key chapter is built upon a structure of "naming names" which is of course in keeping with the theme of the book which looks back to the years of witch hunting during the McCarthy era. The exquisite pain of the inquisition is heightened by the mock gentility offered by the academic setting: the disclosure is orchestrated in the office of the president. He asks the informant, a professor reporting on the dalliance of another faculty member with a student:

"Of course these are unusual times. As we were saying. Maybe the most important thing, just now, is finding someone who'll put the interests of the university ahead of anything else." He lets that sink in a moment. "This student, I suppose you could find out his name if you wanted to."

Fuzzy swallows. "I suppose I could."
And so the curtain is drawn on that interrogation only to be followed later in the chapter by the revelation of the name of the student when a recording is played back to the subject of presidential scrutiny. This concludes in good tragic fashion the chapter:
"I think you had better start by saying your name."

"Do we really need to —" Tom cannot identify the voice. Which member of the study group is it? He just cannot place the voice squawking out of that primitive machine.

"What is your name, please."

"James Stivers."
So oddly formal since previous to this the readers knew him as "Jimmy" sans surname. There is more detail about the creation of the recording and the reaction to the betrayal elsewhere in the novel but this naming moment starkly stands out.

And so for day 1179
06.03.2010

Reputation Rich Cash Poor

Under the sign of Petronius, the arbiter of taste, we place this quotation for your delectation:

Places like the Waldorf [New York] or Drake [Chicago], even though they're desired by wealthier people, tend never to appear on the Top 10 lists, while the creative class, many of whom make much less money and have precarious employment, enjoy, at least the spoils of social capital that come with being tastemakers, and attend the restaurants that do get the attention. Too bad social capital can't be transferred into a pension or property.
Shawn Micallef. The Trouble with Brunch: work, class and the pursuit of leisure.

And so for day 1178
05.03.2010

Wheat Landscapes

From a finger exercise ... "The wheat fields of the plain may appear monotonous but from the correct perspective appear to possess the sublimity of waves."

"I don't know what you want / but I can hold the window open / while you leant out and grab strands of wheat and sand." Alice Burdick in "Strands of wheat and sand" Flutter

"One day the road is a zipper / and as you drive / you zip and uncover / the hairy blonde chest of Saskatchewan." David O'Meara "Trans-Canada" in Storm still

And so for day 1177
04.03.2010

History Through Hockey

It is with hard-earned composure that the hero of the story tells his story in the proper setting where there is comfort and the memories of a well-loved game.

We settled for sitting in the stands while the rink man cleaned the ice. [...] I was at a loss where to begin. In the end, he did it for me.

"You're one of those kids, aren't you? One of the ones the schools fucked up. My dad told me some of what he went through. When they said they wanted to bring you out of there, I guess I kinda knew why, even then. Knew it wasn't all about the game.

"I didn't know," I said. "Not for a long time. Not until just this past year."

"Jesus."

"Don't think he had anything to do with it, really."

He turned in his seat. "I know. I'm sorry. Crap choice of words."

[...]

I told him about the rage that built in me that I had never understood and how it corroded everything, even the game. I told him about the road, the jobs, the towns, and then I told him about the booze.
The laconic tone — that remark about Jesus — almost lulls you but that is because as a reader you have heard the story before and its rehearsal here between friends is a kind of triumph of demons overcome. A quiet triumph. Not boastful. A shared moment so like the passes our hero was renowned for when he was making himself a name in the game.

For the full story, see Richard Wagamese Indian Horse.

And so for day 1176
03.03.2010

Didactic Dragon

John Gardner describes an encounter between Grendel and a dragon which provides the occasion for an exquisite disquisition.

After another long pause, he said: "Approach it this way. Let us take this jug." He picked up a golden vessel and held it toward me, not letting me touch it. In spite of himself, as it seemed, he looked hostile and suspicious, as if he thought I might perhaps be so stupid as to snatch the thing and run. "How does this jug differ from something animate?" He drew it back out of reach. "By organization! Exactly! This jug is an absolute democracy of atoms. It has importance, or thereness, so to speak, but no Expression, or, loosely, ah-ha!-ness. Importance is primarily monistic in its reference to the universe. Limited to a finite individual occasion, importance ceases to be important. In some sense or other — we can skip the details — importance is derived from the immanence of infinitude in the finite. Expression, however — listen closely now — expression if founded on the finite occasion. It is the activity of finitude impressing itself on its environment. Importance passes from the world as one to the world as many, whereas expression is the gift from the world as many to the world as one. The laws of nature are large average effects which reign impersonally. But there is nothing average about expression: it is essentially individual. [...] "
Nothing average here located a pivotal moment in the novel Grendel. As the dragon continues it becomes evident that Grendel does not follow entirely and soon they part ways. But the distinction between importance and expression hovers at the edge of memory and colours the following scenes.

And so for day 1175
02.03.2010

Labyrinth in Labyrinth

Entrance
Anne Carson. red doc>.

His teacher at med school called him a minotaur who swallows other people's labyrinths. Good I'll do psychiatry he said.
Centre
Paal-Helge Haugen. Meditations on Georges de La Tour. Translated by Roger Greenwald.
The simplest question gets lost in labyrinths
of incomplete answers, broken connections
Exit
Carla Harryman. Adorno's Noise
The conceptual artist and artwriter, Robert Smithson, opens his essay "Quasi-Infinities and the Waning of Space" by stating that a labyrinth is "a first obstruction which the mind will pass through in an instant, thus eliminating the spatial problem." The labyrinth he refers to is a diagram on a two-dimensional surface.
Exit Again
Robert Smithson. "Quasi-Infinities and the Waning of Space" in Arts Magazine Vol. II, November 1966.
The first obstacle shall be a labyrinth through which the mind will pass in an instant, thus eliminating the spatial problem.
Note "obstacle" not "obstruction". Note further that the event is cast in the future -- the passing through has yet to occur. The illustration referenced by Smithson and picked up upon by Harryman is the labyrinth on the floor of the Amiens cathedral. Smithson continues in what could be considered as the language of quest "the next encounter [...]".

And so for day 1174
01.03.2010