Thursday, November 28, 2013

Being and Nothingness

Breakfast has become a competition with the toaster. It’s slow. It’s the slowest toaster of all time. It has outlasted empires. It occupies regions of the spacetime continuum with the obstinacy of a barnacle on a Santa Monica boardwalk piling. It measures chronological intervals in terms of geological formation. Its slowness gives the structure and topology of time a voluptuous sinuosity and meanders and eddies and fetid estuaries. Its slowness is a curse and a blessing. I have learned how to adapt. I have learned how to maneuver through conceptions of immediacy and sensory experience. I have widened my embrace of the universe. I can smell the burning of distant suns. I can smell the electrical coils of a kiss in the fourth dimension.  

Here is what I do while I wait for the toaster: earn a Ph.D in astrophysics, astroturf, and ataraxia. Enter marathon poker games in Las Vegas. Raise turkeys. Watch trees cycle through seasonal changes in terms of sap flow density, leaf stomatal conductance, and leaf transpiration. Write letters to dead poets. Invent participles. Disassemble and reassemble the refrigerator. 

I finish breakfast and go online and try to fix my YouTube problem. It may not be strictly speaking “my” problem. The forums indicate that everyone is having problems with YouTube. The frame keeps freezing anywhere from ten to thirty seconds into a video. It would appear that Google is having a Spam war. I wonder if there is a connection between the frames freezing up and the shitstorm of penis enhancement ads I’ve been getting and endlessly deleting in my Spam File. I can’t believe how popular these penis size enhancement pills are. People must actually be purchasing them online. Why would anyone want to increase the size of their penis? It occurs to me that some penises out there might be truly petite. But how is a pill going to increase the size of someone’s member? How would that work? What obscure chemical in the jungles of the Amazon has been discovered to increase the size of a man’s penis? You don’t find women wanting to increase the size of their vagina. I think there the situation might be reversed. Reducing the size of a vagina, perhaps, rather than augment its volume. Why do I not see pills for that? Women seem to be better adjusted to whatever nature has given them. 

I go for some coffee, but there’s only enough to fill not quite half of my Beatles mug. I decide to make more. The lid is stuck. This is a porcelain lid Roberta recently discovered in our cupboard. She likes these lids. I’m content with the cone reposing on top of the pot. Roberta prefers to put the cone aside and put a lid on the pot. It’s more aesthetic. But I can’t get it off. I think it was intended for a different pot and doesn’t quite match the size of this pot. It’s really stuck. I go for a pair of pliers but then realize I can’t use pliers on a porcelain handle unless I can figure out how to cushion the pincers of the pliers. And why is pliers plural? It’s really only one tool. Why is it called a “pair of pliers?” I return to the problem at hand. Maybe a butterknife. I get a butterknife and work the tip of the blade under the lid and begin wiggling it a little. I hear something break. There are two small lobes on the underside of the lid to keep the lid from falling into your coffee when you’re pouring more coffee into your mug. One of them has broken. But now I can get the lid off. We keep the lid. A lobeless lid fits better than a lobed lid.

I am a reading a page from La vie de Joseph Roulin by Pierre Michon, a fragment of which has been read by French actress Alexia Stresi on a program on France Culture radio called Je déballe ma bibliothèque, when I hear a knock at the door. I get up to go see who’s there. I hear footsteps going up the steps and figure it must be the mailman. It is. I open the door, and there is a package. I open the package. It’s a copy of Being and Nothingness by Jean Paul Sartre, a gift from James Heller Levinson and his partner Mary. I happened to mention to him in an email that my copy is lost somewhere in our storage bin and I had to check a copy out from the Seattle Public Library, which someone called back before I could renew it. That was kind of them. I open the book randomly to page 544 and read the beginning of the paragraph at the bottom:  

The “master,” the “feudal lord,” the “”bourgeois,” the “capitalist” all appear not only as powerful people who command but in addition and above all Thirds; that is, as those who are outside the oppressed community and for whom this community exists. It is therefore for them and in their freedom that the reality of the oppressed class is going to exist. They cause it to be born by their look. It is to them and through them that there is revealed the identity of my condition and that of the others who are oppressed; it is for them that I exist in a situation organized with others and that my possibles as dead-possisbles are strictly equivalent with the possibles of others; it is for them that I am a worker and it is through and in their revelation as the Other-as-a-look that I discover “Us” in which I am integrated or “the class” outside, in the look of the Third, and it is this collective alienation which I assume when saying “Us.” 

Man, does that bring back memories of every job I’ve had. I remember one incident in particular with astonishing clarity. I was working for the mailing service of a university in a building with three floors. We, the drivers and mail processors doing the actual grunt work, worked on the lower floor with the loading docks and Pitney-Bowes machines and pallets. The administrators and program assistants and such worked on the third floor. The break-room for the workers was a tiny space that had formerly been a storage closet. It stank so badly I could not go in there. I took my breaks out on the loading dock, even in the cold of winter. The break room on the third floor was huge, and had a spectacular view, big tables and comfortable chairs. It was available to me, but the janitor always seemed to be there doing his work during my break. I dated for a short while a woman in her early thirties who worked on the third floor as a program assistant. I was in my early forties. It was quite obvious that although I was fully committed to my writing during my off-hours, I was not enjoying the success of a Tom Robbins or Sherman Alexie. My position was somewhat of an embarrassment to her. I went to visit her during one of my breaks and waited for her in the reception area on the third floor. The big boss strolled in. He was a tall man, probably the same age as me, maybe younger. I still remember his look. He barely looked at me at all, but when my presence there caught his attention, his look was identical to that of someone who had just seen a cockroach, or unidentifiable insect.
Later in the afternoon, I go for my usual run. Puget Sound is very serene. There is a turquoise mist obscuring the Olympic Mountains to the west, and four big cargo ships waiting to get loaded with grain at Pier 91. 
Water is magical, I think to myself. Everything about it is magical, especially the way it evaporates. Vaporizes, and becomes clouds and columns of turbulent reverie. The reverie is in my head, not in the vapor, but it still seems like reverie, a form of reverie performed by an element. Heat and moisture teased into a Bohemia of wild slippery shapes, elusive apprehensions of invisible forces that blossom into prominences of fleeting convocation.  

The snowman in Zen philosophy is a symbol of transcendence. The snowman is water. Water in the form of crystalline ice particles, fine symmetrical flakes that compound into a being made of snow. Which, when the temperature rises, melts and evaporates. Perfect metaphor for the ephemerality of carnal existence. The Nothingness that is at the core of Being.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bump What This Garlic Dances

Bump what this garlic dances. Eat pluck a balloon it fishy tense. The toward smear constrains form. Photogenic veins move over the asphalt toward massive dimensions of flighty theology. Twang forge shoot there there. Bake a wince we kiss against. Play a philodendron. Slither through a representation of meat. Stumble into pulling as the ego does when it reddens with inspiration. Pin it to the cupboard. The highway compass clashes my it to an innocent voice. Glow boat the murder act to engorge the flex. A adapt a. Squirt window along an old camaraderie. Joy in empty mass. I reach a rip and snap a box against its focus. This is a thesis that aggressively hammers turpentine. We Mediterranean we. Spring purple. Hurl apparitions. Hop development. This is becoming pretzel. Wildcat paths that job into Pythagorean aesthetics.
The regret box heals what we delay in feeling. I want to dribble a birth. A few dry butterflies effective as explanation, or tears. Before includes turpentine. Joy in the grouse. A convulsive sterling parody we combine with blots of clavicle. This may be dangled over your eyebrows, unrivalled in all but jollity. Mirror medications enhance the secretions. We tend to attack what we most forbear in our physiology. Except spouts. Admonition indigo for an oath we made in buttons. Drift juggle. Massive ablution at a brushwork. I answer all that our antenna incites to chronology. Ancestry energizes what we  twinkle. I toy the procession over fiction. Towered and nascent is the strength we hem. Mood the generator rides over in green life.
Catch pack my adherence donkeys. I flap the almond and murmur like a blossom. I have felt literal since the moccasin medicine cab ride in downtown wind. Hunger this hop to a cool escape. Argue behind the logic of claws. Wear my age.
The palette teems with persuasion, the laughing vapor of a Technicolor window. I have flickered what progress bubbles and discovered contraptions in philosophy that philodendron upon height and turn glad. Spread your instincts on a moistened sorrow. A pronoun tied into a knot of syllables. Act it there. Do a summer garnish at a path below the garage.
We hammer ourselves for elevation. We give prominence to the symmetry of cylinders. Drill work walking through a sense of personality. We clank provocation until the paradigm is over. Slippery creosote excels the apprehension of steel. A flit beyond the sternum’s inch plays havoc with a ceremony of alcoholic participles. Wash your blossom and tease a vertical heat. I feel the umber open to the moan of its own shadow. Thought chat bohemia by a sensual parable. Clean roots of a turpentine heart holding the scent of a stethoscope. I circle a rock and kiss a French knot. I writhe among a hill. I widen to embrace a convocation of geese. I watch the dips and age an eating spit. Molasses rides the escalator to a planet of red abstractions. I stumble through my gun aiming at a vague apprehension of glass, the glimmer of pain in a landfill of broken sonnets. It is loaded with bullets of heavenly scripture. Enough opium to appease a feather of yourself. Charcoal unearthed at a site of tumultuous spirit. Glow of spokes in a mouth of bicycles. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Silly Sunday

It’s 11:30 a.m. a Sunday in late November. I just put in a load of wash and got the Sunday paper from the porch. It’s sunny, chilly, not terribly cold. I take the paper out of its plastic envelope and look for the funnies. I try to avoid the news. Not necessarily because it’s bad, but because it’s stupid. The writing is bad, the topics are shallow and have little to do with any actual truth, and the bias leans toward the inane and narrow. The headline is, in fact: “Big-time coaches score big-time perks.” Did I say inane? Spectacularly inane.  

Dagwood, on the other hand, is spooky. He is followed around by a drone. He sees it while leaning back in his office chair. It follows him as he goes to a photocopier. It follows him as he goes to a water-cooler. It follows him home. He enters his home, walks past Blondie who is startled to see him followed by the drone, and Dagwood says “Whatever you do, don’t say anything about the boss.” Is this meant as a sly attack on the use of drones, or what the French would call a “banalisation,” a humorous acceptance of the use of drones and surveillance of our daily and private lives? I suspect it is the latter. Dagwood has never been edgy.  

I don’t know who the woman is on the cover of Parade. She is young, in her late twenties or early thirties, is very pretty, a bit on the heavy side, zaftig, with shiny long blonde hair, a red dress and red high-heeled sandal shoes. A red and white Christmas ornament dangles from her left outstretched arm and a large red globular ornament hangs from her outstretched right arm as she attaches it to a white (presumably artificial) Christmas tree, at the base of which are a group of beautifully wrapped presents. The caption reads: “My Best Christmas Ever! With a dashing new husband and visions of babies dancing in her head, Kelly Clarkson celebrates the joys of the season.” Who is this woman? Is she famous? Is she a TV personality? I look inside. I discover that Kelly Clarkson is a “jet-setting international pop star” who just acquired her pilot’s license. 
I suddenly feel very old. I have become one of those old people so out of touch with the world of media that I don’t know who Kelly Clarkson is.  

I hear a distant siren, rumble of a truck, drone of a passing airplane, our new Whirlpool frig kick in with a pop and a whirr. It’s the kind of whirr that translates in my mind as “cold.” “Your food is getting chilled. I am your refrigerator and I am spinning my gears and eating electricity so that your food may be nice and fresh.”  

Thank you, Whirlpool Refrigerator. I wonder what our apartment would look like if all the furniture had dialogue balloons over it. The chair would be saying: “….” I can’t imagine what my chair would be saying. The chair never makes any noises. It supports my body. But it supports my body as an object, wood and fiber, structure and geometry. It has what Aldous Huxley would call a definite “whatness” but I can’t say what that whatness would say if its whatness employed language.  

It is clear I am not destined to write cartoon strips. A cartoonist would know what a chair might say. A cartoonist would draw a chair and the chair would say “I am a chair. I have Being. Yet one cannot speculate about this Being without oneself being a chair. How else would one know what it is to be a chair? To be inorganic? That is to say, to be solid and void of blood or any other animating fluid, void of bone, void of muscle and vision, void of skin and fur. Yet I exist. For there is Being. The primal mystery for all thinking is concealed in this phrase.” 

I hear another plane. There are lots of planes in Seattle. Kenmore Air is less than two miles from us on Lake Union, Boeing Field is 8.2 miles to the south and Sea-Tac, also to the south, is 16.5 miles. I rarely hear jets. I mostly hear planes.  

I hear the liquid rebellion of metaphysical baubles. I hear the osmosis of eccentric membranes, the conflagration of alphabets and the singing of whales in my toenail. I hear a sack of fog moaning in my testicals and hazy secretions fulfill the wizardry of ink. I hear the promiscuity of light in a junkyard of ancient suns and a carnival of molecules in a drop of fire.  

Right now, I’m attempting to establish the reality of a frog with a handful of words. The legs of the frog are long and supple and affirm the vivacity of being. Yet the frog resists becoming a frog. What I have here is the image of a frog. Do you see the frog? If you can see the frog then the frog has a true existence. There is something essential about this frog, although it remains an imaginary frog. But is it ‘a’ frog, or ‘the’ frog? “The” frog, the frog I began assembling, assembling with letters and phonemes, the articles of language, may be different than the frog you have imagined, are imagining, have yet to imagine, have put off imagining until some time in the future when you have more leisure to think about frogs.  

Here are some things I like, besides frogs: the smell of hardware stores, cherry cordials, shovels and magazines, the smell of freshly dug earth, dollop of honey drooling onto a piece of toast from a tablespoon, the quiet glamour of soap, the paradox of dance, the mystery of transparence. 

And books. I have a book that traces the history of sunlight in my shirt and a book on the idleness of colors under the influence of space travel. Olives and catalogues. Dictionaries and incunabula. I have a book that makes a noise like morphine and another that walks through itself word by word looking for thread. A book that squirts windows and a book that grapples with the camaraderie of turpentine.  

A purple apparition hops into a sentence of green and performs a diagnosis on burlap. I rip a paragraph out of the air and snap it against a box of Mediterranean apples. I sip the absence of walls. I pluck a balloon and eat it. The paraphernalia of history dances on a twang of sternum.

I’ve forgotten that I’ve put my clothes in the washer. I go to the washer. I take out my clothes and put them in the dryer and come back in and try to figure out what’s going wrong with YouTube nothing plays. I start Patton Oswald and he starts a monologue about sweat pants and then he stops. YouTube won’t play. I try moving it forward, that doesn’t work. I click it on and off. That doesn’t work. Then I remember that I left my cardigan sweater with the clothes in the dryer and go retrieve it before it shrinks. I come back and try to get Patton Oswald going again. I get him going. He’s a very funny man. But it feels wasteful to be spending my time watching a standup comic when I could be writing wonderful paragraphs, big fat paragraphs full of subtlety and vertebrae. I could put a desk in it. I could qualify the desk. I could call it a sanguine desk. And the desk would instantly become a sanguine desk. But that would be a failure as a desk. To attribute an emotional state to a desk is to destroy the deskness of the desk right down to the root of the word, which is from Medieval Latin, desca, meaning “table to write on,” which in turn is from the Latin word “discus,” meaning “quoit, platter, dish,” which in turn is from the Greek root diskos, meaning “discus,” as in “discus-thrower,” or “discobulus.” I like “discobulus.” 

I actually have a photograph of myself mimicking a discus thrower in the Louvre. I am positioned like the discus thrower, preparing to swing my body round and let a discus fly out of my hand. Only I don’t have an actual discus in my hand. I have nothing in my hand. But then, neither does the discus thrower, who is naked, and marble. He appears to have something in his hand, but I’m not sure what it is. I’ll have to study it more carefully if I am ever in the Louvre again. Meanwhile, I think my clothes are dry. I can go now. Go and discover the rest of this day.  




Saturday, November 16, 2013

Michel Deguy: Poésophe

Michel Deguy has oft been saluted as the “French Dichter-Denker,” or “poésophe.” He is a thinker poet of the first order. “Deguy redefines the art of poetry,” his friend Jacques Derrida observed in his essay on Deguy “How to Name:” “in a performative and irruptive gesture, he gives it a new definition, a new name (he rebaptizes it) and thus, in another space, from his invention of a new cartography, he assigns it a new task. He assigns one to it, that is to say, he signs a new concept of the art of poetry, a new correspondence to its ancient name, and a new responsibility.”
Deguy’s poetry resembles oak: it is hard-grained, enduring, complex, and pushes its roots deep into the abiding earth. There is a roughness to its bark, its outer husk, the heave and tumble of its syllables, what Baudelaire called “l’élastique ondulation.” The sacred oak of the sanctuary known as Dodona, located in in a mountainous region of limestone folds and thrust fault blocks named Epirus in the ancient Greek world, had oracular significance; it was the favored tree of Zeus. Priests divined the pronouncements of Zeus in the rustling of its leaves.
Oak trees are large, spreading their branches in a pyramidal profusion of radial prodigality, catching the wind in wonderful agitations of give and take. Oak is able to do this because its internal structure consists of cells that stretch inward from the bark to the pith and stabilize the framework, keeping the vertical fibers from splitting. It is the constant buffeting of wind that brings the oak tree to life, that causes it to shake and bob, chatter and convulse.
“There is no inertia in consciousness,” observed Jean Paul Sartre. Agitation is the life of the mind in its exertions toward meaning, those rare and wonderful encounters in the more delicate, exquisite region of one’s Being where Being encounters is its own Nothingness.
Poetry speaks to that region. It is where consciousness, to quote Sartre again, “makes itself, since its being is consciousness of being; it sustains being in the heart of subjectivity, which means once again that it is inhabited by being but that it is not being: consciousness is not what it is.”
So what is it? We must look to comparison. The eyeball cannot look at itself, but only through itself. We need a mirror in order to see the very eyeball that permits us to see.
Analogy and metaphor, contrast and comparison are the mirrors whose Funhouse distortions permit us to see those things that are hidden in the transparency of language. It is a paradox. It is the very communicability of language that obscures and vulgarizes access to the ineffable. It is when language falls into the service of expediting communication that, as Heidegger puts it, “language comes under the dictatorship of the public realm, which decides in advance what is intelligible and what must be rejected as unintelligible.” Poetry is a site of resistance. It is the irreverent play of language that frees it from the “cult of rhetoric,” the banality of communication, and instigates the kind of flexibility needed to apprehend the marvelous, what Proust termed “un peu de temps à l’état pur,” a “bit of time in a pure state,” the power to apprehend  -  to taste, smell, grasp, fondle  -  that which is absent, unreachable, fugitive. Past events, ghostly emanations, the aura of intensity surrounding everyday phenomena exquisitely defamiliarized in a rite of poetic exaltation. “L’imagination poétique est le hôte de l’inconaissable” remarks Deguy in L’energie du déséspoir.
Deguy’s poetry is generous, generative, and germane: it burgeons in analogy, flourishes in comparison. Reading Deguy is an intellectual adventure. The spirit of inquiry is immediate and strong and boundless in ramification. I think of Deguy whenever I rush into a room and forget to turn on the light and must feel my way in the darkness for familiar objects, a desk, a bed, a bureau, and eventually a lamp. Illumination, too, is immediate. Phenomenal.
The word ‘phenomenon’ stems from the Greek verb phainein, meaning “to shine, to appear.” In other words, that wherein something can become manifest, visible in itself. Martin Heidegger devotes a chapter to it in Being and Time. He elaborates further:
An entity can show itself from itself in many ways [von ihm selbst her], depending in each case on the kind of access we have to it. Indeed it is even possible for an entity to show itself which in itself it is not. When it shows itself in this way, [“sieht”… “so aus wie”…] it “looks like something or other…” This kind of showing-itself is what we call “seeming” [Scheinen]. Thus in Greek too the expression (“phenomenon”) signifies that which looks like something, that which is ‘semblant,’ ‘semblance’ [das Scheinbare,” der “Schein”].
Again, the paradox of revelation by concealment. There are occasions in which, to bring something to view, to make something manifest, apparent, we must conceal it by putting something in front of it. This, essentially, is the true function of comparison, to say something is “like” something. We see what these things have in common, and what they do not have in common.
The principle of comparison is crucial to a deeper understanding of Michel Deguy’s work. The French word ‘comme’ (the English equivalent of ‘like’ or ‘as if’) is pivotal, operates a “pivotal reciprocity,” as Deguy phrases it. Derrida compares it to a circuit breaker, or light switch:
… one could be tempted to say that the interruption, let’s say the switch or circuit breaker of the comme will have been exhibited more and more in the clarifying machine, in the seeing machine which a poetics is… the logic of a certain “as though” comes along to disturb the truth, to divide the selfsame presence of the comme, to work otherness into the assembly of resemblance and to therein slip the simulacrum or fiction, a fiction without configuration. This movement seems to become accentuated in all the works that follow, right where they faithfully continue to implement the poetic thinking of the comme.
It’s as though the comme, about which one believes too hastily that it unites, symbolizes, and promises identification, had ceased to operate or let itself be operated. It would seem to be operable and to produce works. It would announce the inoperable. Not by contradicting itself but by still working in the name of the comme, about which Deguy often recalls, expressly for example in Things of Poetry and A Cultural Afffair (1986), that “poetry forbids violent identification, through the comme”; or that “comparison looks after the incomparable, the distinction of things among themselves.”
Let’s not call it a moment in order to designate a period and a turning point in the history of Deguy’s work or thinking, but rather a momentum (a movement, a force, a lasting impetus) that inscribes, records, and simultaneously produces, acts, takes note of the shape of a crease both internal and external to the comme. Internal and external like an obsession making poetry at once chant and disenchanted. In truth it inaugurates a poetic disenchantment, or a des-cant, a defection of the poetic chant as its rhythmized movimentum, the breathing, inspiration, and expiration of the caesura. Where ends that which is never-ending.
I bought a copy of Comme Si Comme Ça on the Boulevard Saint Michel in Paris. Since then, Deguy has become a compulsion. The impulse to immersion in his work pulses, propels, pulls the attention in a momentum of smoldering foment. There is heat. There is appliance. There is feeling. Most importantly, there is interrogation: searching, probing, branching out. Divergence, expansion, proliferation. And their contraries: compression, condensation, distillation. Enchantment and disenchantment.

Deguy’s influences are names generally connected with modernist and postmodernist poetry, in France and the United States: Baudelaire, Nerval, Rimbaud, Ducasse, Mallarmé. There are touches of surrealism, but Deguy’s poetry always remains engaged with actual, raw experience, the complexities and abrasions of external reality, the so-called “everyday.”  Yet, strangely, although it avoids the phantasmagoric manias of the surrealists and opens itself with breathtaking frankness to some of life’s more painful and intimate experiences, Deguy’s poetry does not degenerate into the anecdotal, one-dimensional work more apt to be found in the New Yorker or read by Garrison Keillor on NPR. Kenneth Koch expresses this complex dynamic in the introduction to Given Giving, a collection of early poetry by Michel Deguy translated into English by Clayton Eshleman:
Deguy’s work doesn’t show the same confidence in the world of dreams, sensation, and the unconscious. He is interested in how his predecessors wrote  -  unexpected transitions, confidence in momentary sensations, willingness to remain unclear  -  but not in their conclusions. The unconscious, the irrational, isn’t the answer. The intellect or, perhaps more precisely, intellectual disciplines, such as psychology and linguistics, come back in his poetry. They come back as directions and as points of view and, verbally, as part of the very texture of Deguy’s poems. They are not, however, any more than are dreams and the unconscious, the Answer: in fact, for all their intellectual atmosphere, Deguy’s poems suggest that, for him, if anything is the answer it is the happy -  or distressing  -  confusing mixture of all the complicated thoughts and points of view that delineate his subjects. This kind of complexity is expressed not by a sustained lyric tone  -  this is less revelation than questioning  -  but by a changing surface of tones, and kinds of language. The poem proceeds, verbally as well as thematically, by means of hesitations, interruptions, changes. It stops, it diverges; it often has an air of being unfinished  -  even, one could say, of having gone nowhere, the way a moment goes nowhere, a moment of perception or sensation with all its intermixture of memories, associations, ideas.
These qualities are precisely what draw me into Deguy’s work and provide a range of possibilities, a spectrum, for where I’d like to take my work. Though I must say it is far from being strictly a matter of writing and literary endeavor. It is a matter of Being, of coming into fuller awareness with the phenomenon of being alive, animate, mortal, vulnerable, often overwhelmed by a glut of sensation and feeling and often an acute sense of loss and a commensurate sense of dread. Deguy has a term for this, too, which he borrowed from Blaise Pascal. It has to do with a certain disproportionality, of smallness, of diminution and mortality in the face of things  -  magnitudes  -  beyond our ability to comprehend them. “This whole visible world,” observed Pascal,
is only an imperceptible trace in the amplitude of nature. No idea approaches it. However much we may inflate our conceptions beyond these imaginable spaces, we give birth only to atoms with respect to the reality of things. In the end, the greatest perceptible sign of God’s omnipotence is that our imagination loses itself in this thought.
Let man, returning to himself, consider what he is with respect to what exists. Let him regard himself as lost in this remote corner of nature, and from the little cell in which he finds himself lodged, I mean the universe, let him learn to estimate the just value of the earth, kingdoms, cities, and himself.
What is a man in the infinite?
But to present him with another equally astonishing prodigy, let him examine the most delicate things he knows.
Deguy’s À ce qui n’en finit pas (To that which does not end), is one of the most moving collections of poetry I’ve read. It grapples with issues I find difficult in the extreme to come to terms with, the loss of a loved one, mortality, the pangs of solitude. À ce qui n’en finit pas was published in 1995. It is a threnody, written shortly after the passing of Michel Deguy’s wife of forty years, Monique. I find it remarkable that he not only had the strength to write, but to explore his pain and this universal sorrow with such remarkable articulation, depth, and frankness.
The work consists of short prose fragments, each a deep reflection on the experience of loss, on the nature of existence, on coping with the absence of a partner, and the dynamics and sometimes harsh reality of marriage itself: “Je relate que la vie conjugagle fut contentieuse, violente, impossible. J’ai souffert du marriage comme personne, comme beaucoup comme tout le monde?” (“I relate that conjugal life was contentious, violent, impossible. I suffered in marriage as anyone, as many as everyone?”).
The book is unpaginated because, Deguy remarks, “each page, or almost, could be the first, or the umpteenth. There is no ordinal series. Everything begins with each page; everything ends with each page.” He had, in fact, originally wanted the book to come out as a roll, a forever unrolling scroll of paper.
“Non-being is a euphemism,” Deguy remarks. It is impossible to conceive of non-existence. As soon as we begin to imagine non-existence, it recedes. It cannot be imagined. Imagining non-existence is to give it a conceptual being. To give it a name, such as “non-being,” is to give it an identity and mask its stark reality. “Non-being” is a term, a philosophical abstraction, an entity of sorts. The finality of death is so utterly beyond human imagining that its impact on the living must be filled with something, anything, flowers, prayer, shrines, graves, tombstones. There must be devised a substitute, a proxy, a recognition that acknowledges death as a fact but not as a reality. Who hasn’t felt at home in a funeral home? What a wonderful (albeit expensive) fiction.
Jean-Luc Nancy remarks on the phrase “non-being is a euphemism” as a “mild way of speaking
that assuages, refuses to accept the crashing violence, the dazed sense of loss, and the bitter realization that says “I know that I cannot bring her back alive.” What he [Deguy] describes here as a “scrap of Orphic allusiveness,” which opens his lament for the dead, or threnody, should of course be taken to refer to both Monique and poetry too. Or rather, not to Monique and poetry but to the one as the other. Not the one absorbing the other, in order to prettify it or make it more touching. Not intimacy exploited but intimacy exposed, precisely because it has to be laid bare, and this has to happen to avoid its being poeticized. Philippe would call this, I think  -  and for once he would say it in the manner of Michel  -  the intimation of intimacy. Not a poetical trafficking with death, or a morbid trafficking with poetry. But the one as the other because the nonliving bringing back of the past, which is infinitely over and with which the bringing back of the past must grapple. The “euphemism,” he reminds us elsewhere, “was invented by the Greeks to mean: to pass over death in silence.” To restore death to its silence by speaking it, which also means to allow death to speak amidst our human, all-too-human silence, and to speak with its ever-fresh, ancient voice. To pass over death: not to pass beyond it, nor to endure and maintain oneself in it, but to pass with it, within it, on a par with its eloquent silence, if that is possible.
It is by way of Deguy’s use of the aforementioned word ‘comme’ that he is able to give such an acute sense of presence to alterity, the “eloquent silence” of the unknowable, its possibility as appearance in perceptual consciousness. It is the logic of one hand touching the other. Comparison brings the unknowable  -  that which resists perception, eludes even a thematic framework  -   within perceptual range, particularly when the objects of our consciousness are altered, inverted, converted, reconstructed. “Death,” remarked Deguy in a piece titled “// et ratures,” “is that ‘unknowable,’ immeasurable thing whose event comes to transform all life, perhaps ‘giving all things the status of figure.’” It is a haunting. An obsession. Deguy elaborates further:
We are haunted, to pick up on that saying by Mallarmé, which is also a saying by Merleau-Ponty (one of those imaginatively charged terms whereby philosophy gets ventriloquized by poetry); obsession: an intimate, cureless mode of the two-in-one relation… if at every point in language “the union,” the sound-sense crease has already always occurred. To this obsession, which is indivisibly “obsession with the world" in its figures or “rich postulates enciphered” (Mallarmé), poetry devotes itself, tearing language away from this usage that lessens it through univocalities, but also dialectics that restrains play itself.
Deguy is a prolific writer, but only two of his books have been translated into English thus far: the aforementioned Given Giving: Selected Poems of Michel Deguy, translated by Clayton Eshleman and with an introduction by Kenneth Koch, published by the University of California Press in 1984, and Recumbents, a translation by Wilson Baldridge of Gisants: Poèmes, first published in 1985 by Editions Gallimard. Recumbents (published by Wesleyan University Press), includes a substantial essay on Michel Deguy by Jacques Derrida, “How to Name.” 


Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Tragic Vegetable

The onion is a tragic vegetable. It has all those layers, the outer ones brittle as ancient medieval parchment, as if to say “the one who writes here must use a pen as delicate as air, for life is ephemeral, and the life of the onion evolves in darkness, in dirt, and grows into a globe that is acrid and sour and so compact in its bitterness that it can only be opened by knife.”
When the onion is chopped and sliced its cells are damaged, which produces a volatile gas known as the onion lachrymatory factor, which is the cause of its notorious stinging sensation. The onion is bitter and wants us to cry, to share in the acuity of existence, the exquisitely intricate contrarieties of existence, which are sharp with sensation, and binding in their constancy.
The onion repulses as it draws us to it. We must back away, then return to its rings, if we want to add the onion to our broth or cloves and sausage. We must chop the onion into bits. We must cry. We must endure. We must protect ourselves as the onion does, in layers and rings and sour emanations.
The tear itself is a sign of capitulation. It grows in weight and trickles from the orbit of the eye in a slow irregular path. Weeping has a formal weight, a gravitas. It is different than sweat. Sweat is more acrid and covers the entire body with a sheen of salty moisture, a residual luster of healthful endeavor. It is the result of exertion, not strong emotion. Sweat lacks the sympathy of tears because its origin is mechanical rather than emotional. Sweat attends the drama of bodies in intense motion. It is the juice of aggression. War and sports. Vigorous sex. Hot summer days and long summer nights in voluptuous ceiling fan abandon. It is the stuff of Hemmingway novels and bar bells. Tears are the emblems of romantics and Pre-Raphaelites. Tears are Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Sweat is Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Blood is the opposite of sweat. The object of blood is to say within the body and bring oxygen to the cells. You don’t want to see blood outside of the body. That’s not where it’s supposed to be. You don’t want to see blood at all. Unless you’re a surgeon doing heart surgery and your attention is focused on the rhythmic diastole and systole of the heart. Pumping blood in, pumping blood out. Or giving blood in a bloodmobile, the dark fluid of your body moving through a transparent tube into a plastic bag.
The adult human heart has a mass between 250 and 350 grams. It is about the size of a fist. It is located between the vertebral column to the rear and sternum in the front. Symbolically, it is the seat of all emotion, all feeling. If we say someone has a lot of heart it means they have a lot of feeling, a certain gallantry of generous being. If we say a prostitute has a heart of gold it means that her rough mercenary exterior belies an inner warmth and generosity.
Shakespeare makes frequent reference to the heart: My heart is heavy and mine age is weak; if my heart were great, ‘twould burst at this; there were a heart in Egypt; the heart of brothers govern in our loves and sway our great designs; my heart was to thy rudder tied by strings; throw my heart against the flint and hardness of my fault; O that your Highness knew my heart in this; now I do frown on thee with all my heart; warr’st thou with a woman’s heart; their very heart of hope; the head is not more native to the heart; a heart unfortified, a mind impatient; but break my heart for I must hold my tongue; for my manly heart doth yearn; he’ll drop his heart in the sink of fear; the king’s a bawcock, and a heart of gold; come, here’s my heart; I shall be out of heart shortly, and then have no strength to repent.
The heart of a matter is its very core, its essence. Its most enduring part. Here in the realm of metaphor, a heart could feasibly be anything, except a diesel locomotive or a tulip. Which is grossly off-target. It can be those things, too, if you can massage the language into accommodating the chatter of humpbacked toads, or the language itself assumes a more leading role and simmers its own casserole, concocts scarlet antennas, mechanical beards and splashes of apparitional splendor. Metaphors never die. Metaphors metamorphose. Metaphors metastasize into larger and larger metaphors until at least a dream of life seeks the warmth of the soil, turns toward the sun, and a phenomenal flux occurs, generating thousands of leaves and winds, lavender on the hills of Provence, secret metals in sparkling parables, onions in rows in the fields of eastern Idaho, a heart beating fast in a fight in Tallahassee.
Silverware gleams on the beautiful white tablecloth. A waiter appears, bringing plates of onion quiche. Hearts beat, wine flows. The waiter has been working hard. There is a sheen on his brow as he leans forward, gently putting a plate on the table.  




Monday, November 11, 2013

Here at the Border of Time

Writing begins in bees. A plot of paper supports the imaginary onion and its efforts at making the twilight magnetism of butter seem a little less tragic. Anything imaginary is bound, sooner or later, to become real. Reality cannot help itself. It gets everywhere. Gets in everything. You can’t avoid it. Even fingernails sometimes cantilever the awning of expectation into fingertip arenas of tearful softness. Skin is one example. Another might be poetry, a substance highly valued for its non-utilitarian viscera.  

Meanwhile, let us say there is a shawl hidden in the image of a planetarium. Here at the border of time, the lake goes swimming in itself and a swimming pool opens its mouth to say alpine. Or was it beverage? I can never understand the language of swimming pools. Lakes have a much clearer articulation. Their diction is pure as a ripple, eloquent as a wave as it touches the shore and sinks into the sand. The human face is quite similar. Emotions ripple to the surface and the eyes gleam with an inner hardware, the glimmer of heaven caught among our ribs.  

Destiny moves by rope and war. The wind passes over the field of fallen men and flags and horses and displays the real meaning of drums. Percussion is the real culprit here. Percussion, and guns. The percussion of guns. It is irresistible, like the grammar of platitudes, or the exultation of ducks.  

But who cares about destiny? Destiny isn’t real. Destiny is fiction. Like the distillation of experience into music. Like a hand of gold clasping a copper coin, then dropping it into a jukebox, and pressing a sequence of buttons that results in the voice of Bob Dylan singing about release. Release from what? You name it. Prison. The body. A romance gone sour. Sometimes I get the feeling I’ve wandered into the wrong narrative, somebody else’s story, not my story. My story was meant to unfold on the sidewalks of Athens. So what am I doing here, here at the border of time, where there are no sidewalks, only imaginary sidewalks, but sidewalks nonetheless, sidewalks with curbs and bricks and Portland cement? There is a dynamic of mind that is important to discuss, a certain flexibility to maintain, a resistance to feed and encourage against the pressures of linguistic formulation that inhere in written composition, because that is the nature of poetry, that is the nature of being. It is a way to understand the will’s revulsion to time, the despair of all willing which is foiled by the past, yet being what it is by virtue of this suffering cannot help but seek for a way outside of time, which is incomprehensible, because time itself persists by its own perishing, but for now we should stick to the subject of sidewalks.  

I have a particular flair for sidewalks. They all tell their stories in unique irregularities, insinuations of edge and texture. Patches of old and new cement, the pattern of cracks, the footprints of dogs, the handprints of puckish adolescents.  

There are some sidewalks that seem to propagate islands of sound, the way a gallon of paint might sleep in a can until it is awakened by brush. Sidewalks that groan at night like the ancient voice of the sea, and some that boast the green effulgence of algebra.  

Such is the hardware of meaning. A swarm of words fills with the quiet meditations of a monastery and there goes your meaning, taking to the air in a hundred different directions when a book suddenly hits the ground, or a bell rings. The world is too big for paper. It must be expressed in eggs. The earth needs serious repair. It is breaking. It is dying. It won’t hold together with duct tape. Not this many wars. Not this many cars. Not this many knives.  

Go ahead. Open the door. Let’s begin a new paragraph in which mass and velocity still harmonize with the quantum emanations of a lampshade. An hour stirs in the old red clock, evolving into the knots and ligaments that make an afternoon. The gleaners of chestnuts on Bigelow have gone, and so have the last of the chestnuts. Winter is moving to the forward of the stage with another long speech about snow and death. I like the part about snow. Snow is pretty magical when you think about it. It blankets the cemetery in gentle mounds and drifts. It sticks around for a day or two and then disappears into puddles and slush. It’s as if even the mollusks that inhabit this world held an actuality impervious to the sting of hope or the dull ache of despair. Pure being. And a nice deep hole to crawl into when it’s over. 





Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why I Write

The mind dilates in language. The river has its own answers. When the rain comes knocking on the door, I have to let it in. Everything gets wet. We talk. I make coffee. My tongue pushes a river of boiling words. Eventually everything comes clear. Myriad sensations lift a heavy armchair into writing. The shine of the coffee pot is the essence of abstraction. The ceiling falls up into itself, the way a ceiling was meant to, and this is why I write. Because things are alive. And I love speculation. I love the reach of headlights on moonless nights on the prairie. I love to describe sensations. And when the rain gets up and leaves I feel somersaults in my molecules and an incurable haunting, an obsession to carry the preliminary of all meaning into the grasp of my pen and let it become a conversation between myself and the world. 

There is a man in Cameroun who talks to birds. And the birds talk to the man. The man in Cameroun. Who has a thousand wrinkles and whose hand squirts a blue fluid when he sits down at a desk to write. His words all sound like birds. Their melodies manifest the palpable imagery of flight and reveries of blood and bone. The strange glimmer of an expensive pain is relieved by a mirror that destroys its reflections. The air is ripped by a kiss. The man is like a bowl of water. When the ground shakes the water trembles. The algebra of bubbles creates monstrosities of power. Ecstasies and shadows. Rattles and chants.   

What happens if I let myself go completely in a language, caress, massage, excite its words with a million diversions, deviations, detours, what sort of geography would emerge? What fresh new territory? The question implies that there is a part of me which is capable of restraint, of detaching myself from linguistic participation and remaining a pure animal consciousness free of abstractions framed in words. It equally implies a desire for intoxication, of losing myself, of finding adventure and the delirium of Arthur Rimbaud’s drunken boat, just by relaxing my inhibitions toward language. A desire for the wine of reverie can spill into vineyards and opium fields in this strange linguistic phenomenon known as poetry. 

For example, this sentence which I write is the meaning of the letters which I trace, but the whole work which I wish to produce is the meaning of the sentence, which assembles itself in open chains of opalescent proprioception. There is partial control of the shoestrings but no control of the time. Time is measured in diamonds. It augments the density of apples, turning them to auburn in August, and forms the pornography of space.

The giant golden clock mounted high on the west wall of the Musée d’Orsay is an example of time as intuited becoming. That is to say, time is primarily understood as continuous present giving itself airs when, in fact, it has already been dissolved, diffused, pulverized, and turned into pancakes. One writes to contain the past in the present and impregnate the future with a sacrament and a beautiful noise. 

An idea is called correct when it conforms to its object. An idea is called conspicuous when it rides on a bus.

I emphasize that these are words issuing from horses. They are true words. 

There is power in communion. Silver spurs, black dirt. The heart of a savage religion. Vast correspondences. Nevertheless the references here cannot be dolloped out of any mystic or ineffable experience and left there to spoil. It is in the reality of everyday life that the Other appears to us, and its affections and utterances, its threads and shells and countenances and textures refer to a primary relation between our senses and its objectivity. Its potential for transcendent experience is determined by an internal flow of the universe, an internal hemorrhage, which is revealed to us in our efforts toward objectification. Or oblivion. 

I like brackets and colons because I’m always confused and if I must form the basis of any theory concerning the Other on principles of absence and connection, sherbet and semicolons don’t quite cut it. Not all the time. Sometimes what is needed is a little anguish, a little malaise to make that recipe happen, make it tremble into theorem. What we must always ask ourselves is just this: what is called thinking? Is it humid and tangled? Is it a greenhouse of the mind? Is it an activity like boxing or golf? Is it like swimming? Is it a form of swimming? Is it a concentration?
I believe it is a form of concentration. Like swimming.  

But what is concentration? Is it a breaststroke? Is it a representation of ourselves as swimmers when we are not actually swimming? What is a breaststroke? Is it hard? Does it hurt? Does it hurt if we attempt to do it on the floor?  

It could be that the forming of thoughts and the forming of ideas are one and the same thing. Because pain always comes to us naked, and must be adorned in wax and understanding. Pleasure is oftentimes hidden in pain, and pain is always embedded in pleasure. This is food for thought. It could be that thoughts are a kind of representational idea, and that sometimes they do, indeed, resemble food. Olives, eggs, spaghetti. But at the same time it remains obscure how a slice of pizza might resemble a marker on our path of thought. This is especially true if I am pierced by a predicament called Being which must bicycle around the room like a cranberry.  

Like Apollinaire eating a hot dog.  

Like the weather riding a hill. Or a sudden hiss from a burning log.  

I scrounge for thunder in the action of a few words. I notice that fingernails have little grooves. If they were a record, an old vinyl forty-five that I could play on a phonograph, what would they sound like? Would I hear an old Beatles song? “Under my Thumb” by the Rolling Stones? 

Various mythologies are at play in the long gray winter day. Butchers, lumberjacks, electricians, men and women folding hospital laundry, towels and gowns and sheets and lab coats. The mythology of routine is chiseled into stone. Hints of another world are buried in this one. This world. This place. Where people carry burdens of feeling and abstraction and write them down as stories. As bubbles. As biographies. As windows with rain splattered against the glass. When the rain comes knocking at the door, I must let it in. I have no choice. It is necessary for the knower to become known. All there is of intention in my consciousness is directed toward the outside, toward the world. Because what is the difference? The difference is this: the outside and the inside are linked, are in some ways one and the same, and yet different from one another, in the same way that a cyst is like a blister, which, if treated properly with radiofrequency ablation or drainage, will disappear in time, whereas a blister may persist in another form, as a callous, an agglutinative morpheme, or an aromatic bobsled in a state of unconsciousness.  Syntactic iconicity expresses an exquisite tendency for catalytic conversion and talcum powder. The ensuing process is wrinkly. In order that this theme should preside over a group of words it is necessary that it be present to itself, not as a thing but as the potential of a thing, a thing imagined, a thing that is wet and long and scattered, dispersed, as all things are dispersed, by breaking down a wall, by rupturing the ground and putting seeds in it, by thinking and forming ideas, the consciousness of consciousness which is one with the consciousness of which it is conscious. 

And that’s why I write. To get it all out. Way out into the open. Perhaps into an abyss. Perhaps onto that soil upon which we have labored to divide into furrows and planted our seeds, our corn, our wheat, our lavender, our soybeans and sugar beets, that rich alluvial soil, if we are lucky, that endless walk under boiling clouds, that point in the distance, that pattern of tread, this earth, this ground, and upon which we live and die, if we are honest with ourselves. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Centrifugally Yours

The first time I got high was a rite of passage for me, a revelatory conduit to a world I’d only read about in Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, Charles Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises and a Life magazine article.
The vehicle of choice, in this instance, was a nicely rolled joint of marijuana. This was some years ago. I was eighteen. I’d tried smoking marijuana a few times, but to no effect. I didn’t feel high. I wasn’t experiencing anything that seemed out of the ordinary, certainly nothing like what I’d read about. And then I did. I got high, unequivocally high, stoned out of my gourd with some friends in an apartment in the U district. The apartment had been rented specifically for the purpose of getting high. Nobody actually stayed there. I don’t even think it had a bed. The only furniture was a turntable, a pair of speakers, and a wheelchair. We sat on the floor. I vaguely remember a rug, but that may be fabrication, not actuality. Our voices echoed the way they do in a bare enclosed space with a hardwood floor.
There were three of us. A musician, a philosophy student, and me. It was my first summer out of high school. The musician (I can’t remember his name, but he was a skinny guy with remarkably blonde hair which was rather lank and thin and shoulder-length, quite daring for the era), got up after we passed the joint back and forth a few times, and began rolling around in the wheelchair. I noticed I was high when I was listening to Buffy Saint-Marie sing “Little Wheel Spin and Spin,” and the words ‘round’ ‘round’ assumed a resonance they’d never had before. The music opened. There were a thousand subtleties and tones that unfolded in fascinating, synesthetic visions of mingled sensation. It was as if my perceptions had enlarged by a factor of unknown quantity to a state of infinite correlation. Now I understood perfectly what Blake meant when he said “To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour.”
We got hungry. There was a Burger King right across the parking lot. We went to the Burger King, which had three outdoor windows for ordering food, and stood in line. When it came my turn, I stepped up to the young lady in her bright white Burger King garb to order a hamburger. I couldn’t get the word out. The word ‘hamburger’ suddenly seemed so hilarious. Who could ever say ‘hamburger’ without laughing? I couldn’t stop laughing. I mean that literally. The philosophy student had to step in and order the burger for me. I got out of line and went off to continue my laughing.
Not all my frolics in the psychedelic realm were that blithe. There was the time right around Christmas, 1966, that I dropped some acid that a friend gave me. Some minutes after hearing “Strawberry Fields Forever” for the first time on a radio perched atop a refrigerator in some guy’s apartment in downtown San José (a Victorian era house with absurdly high ceilings), the acid kicked in with unbelievable force and I vanished. I became a cloud of atoms à la the crew members of the Starship Enterprise whenever they beamed up or down to a foreign planet. This adventure cost me a night in the emergency ward of a hospital, where one of the other people that dropped the same acid was carried in by two cops. He couldn’t walk. At least I could still walk. Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud” now had a new perspective. It took a little over a year to reassemble my molecules and come down to Planet Earth.  
So ended my brief but colorful career ingesting hallucinogenic substances. The LSD incident is mostly just memory now, though I continue to have tinnitus which began as soon as the acid wore off during the night and I resumed a relatively sober but uneasy consciousness the next morning. Coincidentally, William Shatner also suffers from tinnitus, which he incurred after a sudden explosion on the Startrek studio set. It’s reassuring that I have something in common with Captain Kirk. The tinnitus is a dubious memento from my voyage into inner space.
If I were able to travel back in time and give myself advice à la Spock in the new Startrek movies, I’d say don’t do it. It’s not worth it. You will pay for this revelation in bouts of incapacitating anxiety and permanently ringing ears.
And really, when it comes down to it, no drug is necessary to alter perception. One of Kant’s discoveries is that all our experience of the world is a tissue of concepts which lead to irreducible contradictions and terrible wallpaper if we take them in an absolute sense rather than appreciate them for their suppleness and flexibility. This is key. Should we submit to life, or create it? To be or not to be is a continuous, ongoing dynamic. There are abundant alternatives and perspectives available to us at every moment. First we must notice, then we must choose. The waters of Lethe, or a glass of milk? A walk through a Zen monastery, or a trip to Disneyland? We ride on the wings of giant birds and do not know it. We believe we are rooted in blood and bone, and so we are. But there is also the white bark on a stand of Rocky Mountan birch and pronouns stuffed with murmuring pinks, lovely meringues and the prodigality of silver. The foment of a moment is washed with a thousand tides. I is a reverie of water. My tie is a wavelength, my shirt is an expedition of buttons and the paintings of artists such as Cézanne make it fully apparent that the world is a sphere of vibrating transitions, patches of luminous green, tassels of vermilion, succulent blues in a play of summer light, each adaptation or rebellion alive with articulation, as though every color and place were intertwined, interrelated, part of a vast, infinite symphony.
The accordion must be squeezed to make its music. Fortunately for me, I don’t have an accordion. Fortunately for you, I can’t play the accordion. But if I had an accordion, I would squeeze it. If anything, just to hear what sound came out of it. I have a taste for the vowels of Being. The consonants of existence. The letters that make a pick-ax. The scriptures that make religions. The twisting and pulsing that make a handspring different from a paradox.
A paradox is ugly with illogic but beautiful with conflict. I am the proud inhabitant of a bed. I roll to the side, half in fog, half in sunlight, and feel myself drift into Florence. There is no logic to this, none at all. Though neither is it a paradox. There is nothing paradoxical about sleep. Sleep makes perfect sense. Its opposition to the world of logic consists in its flair for oblivion. But even that smacks of logic. You can’t get away from it, can you? This continual relation to consciousness, with the original instability of it, its metastable state in the indeterminate waters of language. This is where possibilities are infinite and consciousness considers what it is, what it might be, what it could be, and what it does on its days off.
There are, according to Edmund Husserl, three different subjective faculties: cognition, feeling, and will. But what is this unconscious I’ve heard so much about, that source of myths and fairytales, that luminous underworld of fantasies and chimeras, that font of unexpected ideas and feelings? What are dreams? What are fantasies? What joins me to reality? What, exactly, is consciousness anyway? If my response to experience external or internal is in my head, which is the proper location for such a phenomenon to occur, and the world is a formation of the mind, then why can’t I take a refrigerator or a brainwave and turn it into a dragon, a diamond, or a mansion on the moon? Because, Husserl notes, reality is a predicate added to immediate experience, ingrained in experience, and subject to evidential verification. We can be sure that something is real only as long as a synthesis of evident verification takes place. The true reality of objects are to be obtained only from evidence, and that it is through evidence alone that really existing, true, and rightly accepted object has meaning to us.
This sounds dry. But it has value. The things that go on in my head can get pretty weird. It’s reassuring to know that there is an “out there,” a universe “out there” whose sensations, contours, and measurements are consistent. Consistent for me, consistent for everyone else. Consistent, but not absolute. That is to say, there is plenty of room for what Husserl termed “unmediated seeing,” his phrase for intuition, a form of knowing unencumbered by the fog of indoctrination. In general, ordinary experience is only partially caught in its variegation and complexity. There is also what Husserl termed the “epoché,” a suspension with regard to one’s participation in experience, a space for play and interpretation, creativity and invention.
A single rub is enough to awaken the lamp. I am speaking metaphorically, of course. The lamp is not a real lamp. The lamp is a crowd of temperatures, depending on the general climate of talk and insinuation, the snow laden in modulations of its own silent scripture in the wooded ravine.
Poetry is in crisis because it undermines assumptions. Assumptions based on language. The holes we dig for ourselves. Until, one day, we hit a geyser. And the whole world changes. We embrace an elegant resistance. We assume the grandeur of water falling from a cliff. We smell perfume in an old oak drawer of scarves and underwear. We become openly, defiantly circular. Eccentrically concentric. Which is to be centrifugal. Which is to be a force, and spin out of control, and spin and spin and spin.
See these? These cuticles have been assembled by syllable. They’re impeccable. But they’re not mine. They belong to the alphabet next door, which is Sumerian, and cuneiform, and tall and muddy.
Holes are exciting. Whenever I see a hole, I want to crawl into it. I think of Dante entering the underworld, shadows shrinking and retreating as Beatrice carries her light further into the abode of the dead. “O thou, who art on the farther side of the sacred river, what thinkest thou?” “As a cross-bow breaks its cord and its bow when it shoots with too great tension, and the shaft hits the mark with less force, so did I burst under the heavy load, pouring forth tears and sighs….”
The feather is longer during language than it is during the life of a bird. But it sometimes depends on the bird, the nature of the bird, and its ability to stay aloft.
Four way stops disturb me. Why do they exist? I prefer the tyranny of traffic lights. At least you know what to do. There is no indecisive moment, no opportunity for things to go wrong, hesitations to upset one’s balance, one’s equilibrium. If it’s red, you stop. You wait. You think about whatever it is you think about. I don’t know what other people think about. I might think I do, but I don’t. All I know is that if the light turns green, I can go. And if it’s yellow, well, here again we have more ambiguity. Do we speed through before the other cars get going? Or shall we come to a nice dignified stop and stay in a mood of calm composure? I guess it depends. Context is everything.  


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Return of the Blob

Today The Blob came to town. It was a quiet, unheralded event. It rained a little, a 350 pound sunfish was caught in Elliott Bay, and Bertha, the 6,700 ton boring machine assembled in Osaka, Japan, continued to tunnel its way through the muck and cement of the downtown waterfront.
No one pays much attention to the diversions of a ball of jelly until it begins to eat people. The Blob was not here to eat people. The Blob was here to endorse the Institutue for Amoebic Dysentery.
Remember The Blob? Steve McQueen? Aneta Corsaut? Downington, Pennsylvania?
Yes? No? It doesn’t matter. What is important is that The Blob, which might best be described as an entity ontically distinguished by the fact that in its very Being, in its very journey as a living presence, that it is Being itself which is at issue, which brings about a relationship with itself, a romance, if you will, which is one of Being, and that to some degree it does so explicitly, and is protoplasmic and large, and glistens, and changes color according to its mood.
You may also remember that The Blob was quite hungry and swallowed everything in sight. Its taste was as indiscriminate as it was infinite, devouring anything that came within its immediate perimeter sporting arteries and hydrocarbons. It seemed to have a particular appetite for humans. I can’t remember if it ate animals. Humans are animals, but very bizarre animals, with hair and desks and religion. Few animals, if any, are in possession of desks or religion. If turtles or worms have a religion, they are keeping it a secret, and worshiping in private.
As for desks, I have never seen a turtle or a worm sit at a desk. I did once see a worm engrossed at a desk, though it was by no means sitting. Worms are not anatomically suited for sitting. It was more like adherence. It was doing something wormlike on the desk. Calculus, or a crossword puzzle.
The Blob wasn’t about desks. The Blob wasn’t about furniture in general. The Blob required that its understanding of the world take place without a desk, or a chair. The Blob was breathtakingly unsystematic. There was nothing remotely transcendent in its nature. The Blob was an epitomy of unappeased appetite, appetite that grows the more that it is fed, increases by what it consumes, swells by what it lessens.
Was The Blob’s penchant for humans strictly an idiom of the cinema, or was it because humans are more easily digested than dogs or cabbage rolls?
 The Blob, so far as I know, did not have a religion. The Blob was just a blob. An amalgam of blobbiness. Blobbitude. Jelly. A moist, peremptory sphere with a certain primordial flair for being in the world. For occupying space. Encumbering volume. Eating things.
Life is largely defined by appetite. When life ceases, appetite ceases. Everything else in between is eating. Eating and eating. And sleeping. Eating and sleeping and eating and sleeping.
There is sometimes also commingling. Synthesis. Organization.
Extortion, snippiness, and dancing.
Fainting, laughing, and talking on cell phones.
Bowling and pottery and reproducing.
There’s a big one: reproduction.
The reproduction of one’s species is a remarkably animating motivation for most life forms.
The Blob did ok at the box office. It grossed four million. Larry Hagman directed a remake in 1972, and Rob Zombie attempted another comeback in 1988, but The Blob never made it big. Not like Jaws, or the pouty vampires of the Twilight series. It lacked the sexy finesse and aristocratic charm of Count Dracula, the malaise and acute need for intimacy of the forever bumbling and temperamental Frankenstein, the raging internal conflicts of the Wolfman or the creepy alterity of the Mummy shuffling around in all those bandages. The Blob was boring. Dull, doltuish like a Zombie, but without the bad breath and anatomical raunchiness. Zombies are the porn equivalents of death.
Nobody likes death, but when you see somebody dead come back to life, or seeming life, a semblance of life, squirting blood and gobbling brains like raw oysters dipped in fennel butter, it gets your attention.
The Blob just oozed. It didn’t walk, it didn’t shuffle, it didn’t run or somersault or leap through the air like a fiend from hell. It just oozed. Oozing does not really come across all that compellingly on the big silver screen. It would just get lost on a smartphone. The Blob would look dumb on a smartphone.
There stands Liam Neeson as Zeus in shining cinematic armor: release the Kraken, he intones.
 “Release The Blob” does not trigger feelings of awe and terror. The Blob did not begin a series of blockbusters, or underground cults trading DVDs and Blob memorabilia. The Blob was frozen by high school fire extinguishers and parachuted ignobly into the Antarctic. It did not find its way to a single T-shirt or get tattooed on a young lady’s thigh.
Ooze does not lend itself to 3D special effects. Ooze is ooze. Ooze oozing down city streets glistening and gargantuan as it ingests more and more people and turns different shades of red and blue is the stuff of quiddity: authentic, unalloyed being in its most purest state. Determined, indefatigable appetite. Raw, unmitigated hunger.
People think greed is sexy. Really? Greed? Next time you think greed is sexy, think of The Blob. Think of The Blob oozing onto a yacht. Oozing into a limousine. Oozing into a six bedroom chateau in Aspen with a state of the art theater, sauna, steam room and dog bath.
The Blob in a sauna.
The Blob in a sauna is best left alone. Alone with its blobbitude. Its hunger. Its protoplasmic sweat trickling down its sad amorphous folds like discharge.
Like suppuration.
Like tears.