Sunday, May 26, 2013

What Really Matters

I’m haunted by morning because your neck is beautiful and the blood is apparent in its audacity. Let’s bring a punching bag to the birthday party of a crawling kingsnake as structures howl for space and stir me like nothing else. A word crawls out of my mouth in fingers of mist. A Rolling Stone throws rocks at the moon. Wheels converse with the road and ripples turn into waves until a caustic puppet appears and crackles with Strindberg. Your heat feels so good my dear infinity bursts out of a garden and grows into meaning like coins of pure sterling. My mind is empty and parallel to a hug. Wrinkles and crinkles of skin jackknife into patches of blazing paragraph. The sparrows are so quick and alive that a turmoil flowers into a study of the Etruscans. We age together like hawks.
The garden is a component of dirt. Picasso is a word of sparkly syllables framed in fat perspective. My attitude is tilted toward properties of summer. Handstands venerate the earth. Let us chat and imitate dogs in an opulent hotel of popsicle stick machines beside the white chickens as the wind scribbles its thirst on a river. A swallow is an insoluble bird. I carry a rupture wherever I go. My pockets beg for sloth, the gnarled avidity of death. We slap the water instead and my pockets get personal and warm and correspond to clarinets. We are little streams to one another beside the post office our thoughts flow through one another like the algebra of coal or a canvas full of rain.
The greenery of morning is an out and out flower of congeniality an enthralled attitude and a shivering pavement. A painter sneezes the grammar of oak which is complex as an oyster if you get my drift. A head is for healing the erudition of rubber. Cotton redeems the audacity of flags which an evasion interprets gleefully in my heart of hearts as a decipherment of space. I cook a philosophy over my belief in the lotus. “Bomb” is a poem by Gregory Corso. It crackles like algebra in a hydrogen jukebox as we crash through the wall looking for Jim Morrison and go humming in the mud of the past as if it were Tuesday and rippled through a paragraph like this morning’s coffee. In other words, palominos in a pickle personify the spread of words.
Words are tangential to the duty of cabbage, which is to grow into convolutions. There is a literal confusion about metaphors. Structure cuts through a lobster. Its outer body has a coppery sheen. This is water whispering. Color steers toward volume. My belt buckle clangs when I walk. The guide is lost. I am diving into life in a book of tinkling shadows that squirts tattoos whenever I open it. Charcoal and enamel combine to mean Technicolor peacocks in a metaphor of clouds.
There is a feeling of arabesque as an odor meanders through my nose and a touch opens my anatomy to raw umber. I answer it by flowing into a road of vowels and midnight towels. The plot has dissonance and static I ruffle my feathers and howl. I see pink horses shout and push themselves around a porcelain washbowl in which soapy water glitters with stunning clarity. I push a gaze out of my eyes as my pen rattles with words. I try to get the words out of the pen there is an eagerness to do this and a spatial orientation that writhes among the syllables a drooling vowel hectic in battle expands into a door let me know if this is too impersonal and I will sail it beyond the horizon I am burning to say so burning to do that burning to represent language as a form of diffusion a formula for woodwinds a universe of trunks evoked by an elephant. I run and construct a whisper because the plywood merits pronouns and a haul of flip-flopping fish argues for seclusion. My words are your words. Let them sparkle like a liniment.
My cuts amuse. My beliefs are shiny. A word is a chrysalis of syllables. The ceiling sneers at the floor. I wander among the potatoes and wonder what saga best explains the architecture of rope. Sunlight simmers on a shoal of catfish. The river fulfills the dark purpose of perforation. The water answers with a conversation among introverts. Space drools with gravity up the side of a glass bowl with a tint of green.
Poetry is a device for understanding cocaine. We laugh at a blob of blue hooked to a harmonica. The need for music is great and seamless as an insect carved from granite. The shivering never stops. This whistles amid physical examples of Burgundy and the barrels gush with truth. Go, grab a dream and sleep. There are parables to discover. Sleep is immaterial. What really matters is being unconscious. That’s where the fun starts. The surfaces drop through themselves like paraffin and molasses and curves evolve into a deeper understanding of volume. I dream of a big trombone. Cartwheels moisten the lines of a poem with little fingers of rain over and over again. My pen is talking to me. It says anguish wars with definition, and I agree. Bones are enthusiastic. You can tell, because of their structure, and congeniality, and large crimson lake singing in a cemetery. The river keeps going, and the blisters clap their paradigms, smelling of mythology and boats. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Car2Go A-Go-Go

Roberta’s Car2Go card arrived in the mail on Monday. I needed to go to the bank, so we thought it’d be a great convenience if we spotted one of the little white and blue Smart cars that make up the Car2Go fleet and drove it to the bank. There had been several Car2Go cars parked on our street or very nearby for the last several weeks. We found none, however, and so we ended up walking. Some cirrus caught my attention in an otherwise flawlessly blue sky. It seemed uncannily vivid and well-defined, accentuating the China blue sky with dazzling lucidity. It was so veiled and feathery it was difficult not to think of it as some form of sublime consciousness. Was this a moral universe after all? Was there truly a higher power underlying life’s random brutality and unfairness with a mysterious order and angelic harmonies? Or were these just cirrus clouds, feathered by the deposition of water vapor in the thin air of high altitudes, measurable, gaugeable, knowable as anything else? That same day, 2,000 miles distant, a murderous two-mile wide tornado would devastate a suburb of Oklahoma City, leaving twenty-four people dead.
There but for fortune go you or I.
After I finished depositing a check, we went to the see the new Startrek movie at the Boeing Imax theater, which was just a short walk from the bank. We enjoyed the movie. The dialogue is crisp and witty, the villains are truly menacing, the special effects are eye-poppingly exciting in 3-D and the story is full of suspense and spectacle. I’ve always liked the underlying themes of Startrek: Kirk, who is all impulse and gallantry and threatened with having his rank removed for insubordination, is contrasted brilliantly with Spock, who is all reason and logic and at war with the emotions of his human side. There is always intensity and great friendship between these two characters despite frequent outbreaks of resentment and irresolvable ethical dilemmas when one of them saves the other from sure death but must break Federation rules in order to do so. Chris Pine assumes Shatner’s old role with an almost seamless realization of Shatner’s mischievous, devil-may-care sparkle and this astute casting coup is even more evident with the role of Spock; Zachary Quinto is totally convincing as the young Leonard Nimoy.
Boeing Imax is the perfect location to see a Startrek movie because it is located on the old Seattle World’s Fair grounds. The theme of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, which was called the “Century 21 Exposition,” was a futuristic celebration of science whose evident intent was to demonstrate that the United States was in no way “behind” the Soviet Union in the domains of science and space but was, in fact, at the very forefront of stellar discoveries and technology. I was fourteen at the time, and remember it well. I saw the Space Needle rise out of the ground from the vantage point of my drafting class on the third floor of Queen Anne High School. As I attempted to draw precise configurations of screwdrivers and C-clamps (never to the satisfaction of the humorless prick that taught the class), I watched as concrete trucks filled a thirty foot deep hole for the base and the massive steel beams that form the legs and upper body of the needle were welded together, one by one, so that it looked like a giant weed growing out of the ground.
There is great cruel irony for me in this now because the 21st Century is thirteen years old, but I’m not here. I’m still in the twentieth century. I neither own or carry a cell phone, despise digital technology and its consequent undermining of intellect and literature and destruction of books and print media, and although I keep a blog, it is a headache-inducing inner conflict in which I simultaneously feel the empowerment of instant self-publication and the degradation of instant self-publication.
As we walked up the long spiraling ramp that leads to the Imax theater, a series of photographs caught my interest. This was part of an ongoing Nikon Small World competition and exhibit of scientific micro-photography. I gazed at several and was stunned at the power of the images: what appeared to be a cracked yellow sun with blood veins emanating into space was, in fact, a “3D lymphangiogenesis assay” of cells sprouting from “dextran beads embedded in fibrin gel on Bing.” A membranous tornado of green and black peppered with luminous blue dots was a “Single optical section through the tip of the gut of a Drosophila melanogaster (fruitfly).”
We hoped to find a Car2Go outside the Seattle Center fairgrounds. There were none. Roberta uses a Samsung "dumb" phone. It is your basic, serviceable cell phone with no Internet access, so there was no way we could obtain the Car2Go availability map and reserve a car. The bus proved the more convenient option. We rode the number 2 to the top of Queen Anne and went to the Five Spot café for dinner. The Five Spot is a “themed” restaurant of “Regional American Food.” Every six months or so they change themes from one U.S. location or event to another. The décor and food on the menu is a reflection of the theme and is often quite clever, and good. The current theme was “Blue Highway,” a.k.a. “Highway 61,” the highway legendary for its musical history because it drops down from Minnesota to run through Saint Louis to Memphis to New Orleans. A papier-mâché rat, spider, and snail hung in the center of the restaurant and were occasionally animated by electrical device. I think they were supposed to be musicians in a band. Paintings of blues and rock ‘n roll greats adorned the wall: Otis Redding, Etta James, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King. Elvis Presley, dressed in his over-the-top regal high-collar rhinestone studded getup from his 70s Las Vegas period, lunged flamboyantly in front of a pizza delivery man.
I was torn between the slow smoked Tennessee brisket (“dry rubbed & hickory smoked for ten hours; served with baked beans, spiced & blistered green beans & sweet ‘n hot Memphis BBQ sauce”) and the St. James Parish Bowl of Gumbo with Andouille sausage (I love Andouille sausage), chicken and shrimp slow cooked in dark roux and served over herb rice. I decided on the Tennessee brisket. Roberta ordered the Crossroads Pan Roasted Chicken, topped with “habanero Voodoo sauce and served with Brussels sprouts and griddled cornmeal cake." I also got a Crater Lake root beer to wash it all down. The meal was good, the pork was tender and juicy, the baked beans were stunning and the green beans were eminently toothsome, but I don’t think it was anywhere near the $17.00 dollars they charged for it. The portions were rather small and the humbleness of the food did not merit such a heady price.
The next day, a Tuesday, we scored our first Car2Go. While Roberta was at her doctor’s appointment downtown, I googled the Car2Go map for available cars and found several just a few blocks distant. I texted her the information, hoping the cars would still be there. Roberta called after her appointment and I checked to see if those two cars were still available. They were not. I found another one on Columbia. It was still available when Roberta got there, so she was able to drive that one home. We felt triumphant. We went for a run, and when we returned approximately an hour later, we showered and dressed and walked down our easement to see if the car was still there. It was. Hallelujah. Unfortunately, someone had reserved it. I wondered if you could do that, I told Roberta, but it didn’t seem fair, so I went no further and didn’t bother to check. Roberta explained that yes, you could reserve these cars from your computer or smartphone, but there’s only a half-hour window to make it to the car before the time expires. That still didn’t seem right. I mean, there you are in a hurry, your card awkwardly wrestled out of your wallet or purse while struggling to hold a recently purchased guitar or cherub lamp in your other hand, and the car smackdab in front of you has been fucking reserved. That sucks.
Back home, we checked the computer for more cars. There weren’t any close enough to make it worth our while. We just wanted to go to the QFC at the bottom of the hill and get some grape juice and root beer and anything else cumbersome to lug up a steep hill. We checked again a few minutes later and the car Roberta drove home was still in its same spot and had become available again. Maybe the person that had reserved it changed their mind, or got caught by a phone call just as they were leaving and their time ran out. Roberta reserved it from our computer and once again strolled down our easement to the car. Roberta held her card over the reader in the windshield, unlocked the doors and got in and opened the door for me on the passenger side. I watched as she went through a series of moves on a little computer screen, questions about the condition of the car, etc. Then she put the key in and started it. There was a high-pitched electrical whine which died down in a few seconds as the car resurrected into mechanical life.  
Roberta described her driving experience: she said felt a weird surge of power when she stepped on the accelerator, which was due to the fact it was electrically powered. Other than that, it was easy to maneuver. It had a radio, which seemed always to be tuned to KEXP, which was fine with me. I like their music, except for the occasional rap. We brought our juice and root beer down to the underground parking lot and resumed our ride in the Car2Go bucket. I couldn’t get the trunk open so I had to hold two big paper grocery bags on my lap. Roberta parked it on the street again and we walked the rest of the way up our easement. The total for that day’s Car2Go driving came to $17.00 dollars.
We drove another Car2Go car the next day, on Wednesday afternoon after Roberta returned home from work. Earlier in the day I’d heard a report on NPR that money in savings accounts was vulnerable to getting chipped away by inflation because interest rates were so low. That did it. That was the tipping point for me. The incentive to keep my money in an IRA just vanished. It wasn’t that I believed this reporter on the instant, I’m far too cynical and skeptical a person to do that. Everything the report said jived with my own observations. My bank statements were proof. The money in the accounts did not compound with interest. Inflation nibbled on its value like rabbits raiding a cabbage field in the dead of night. The NPR reporter advised making your money work for you, invest it in something that appears to be appreciating, real estate being the most obvious. A car is not an investment, it depreciates the instant the wheels leave the lot and hit the street, but it’s enjoyable, it’s fun, and it is a vital piece of equipment in a city like Seattle where the public transit system is barely adequate and is dying from lack of funds.
We went online on our computer (you really do need a smartphone when you’re on the go for a Car2Go) and found a Car2Go at the bottom of the hill, on Valley. Roberta reserved it, showered, dressed, and we walked down to take command of the little tin can and drive it to the credit union where I could shift some money into my checking account. I was sure now that I wanted to buy a car. I knew I was giving into an addiction, a driving addiction, car addiction, listening-to-music-loud-in-a-car-addiction, but three months of bus riding, taking taxis, renting cars, and now using the costly and not particularly convenient Car2Go system had persuaded me that my recent headache-inducing conflict over whether to buy a car or not was leaning inevitably in the “buy a frigging car you dope” direction. I had made my choice. 
I must also admit to some grieving for our old Subaru Justy, which I suppressed for obvious reasons. It was a machine, not a pet, not remotely a living creature. Yet the old Subaru had felt like a friend, a member of the family. I did feel bereaved. I just wouldn’t admit it. Buying a new car would help with that hole it left.
Roberta started the Car2Go and we headed toward Mercer, which used to be the easiest way to get to Fairview and Eastlake until Paul Allen began evolving his empire south of Lake Union. Half of Mercer was closed. It looked dicey, so we headed to Dexter. Traffic on Dexter was heavy and slow. I worried that we would be trapped there long enough to miss the bank being open, but eventually we made it to Fairview, made a left, and minutes later found ourselves at the bank. The transaction was quick so we kept the Car2Go and resumed driving it back to Queen Anne. We parked it on Queen Anne Avenue North and walked to Uptown China, a restaurant we used to frequent much more often when we still had our Subaru. We waited in the entry for someone to seat us. There is normally someone there. It was unusual to wait. The service is normally quite good at Uptown. While we stood waiting I spotted a couple we did not like and certainly did not want to enter into conversation with. Even a brief chat would have been painful. So we crept out before they caught sight of us and had dinner at Athina, a little further up the street.
Our trip to the bank had cost $13 dollars, roughly. That means that in two days our Car2Go use totaled $31 dollars. A taxi would have been cheaper. I looked forward to getting a new car. There was dread, and guilt, but mostly the relief of an addiction finding its way to wheels, acceleration, and appeasement.


Roberta found a Car2Go at QFC shortly after getting off work. It was available, so she drove it home. It's a short distance, a quarter of a mile at best, but it's a steep uphill climb, and she had a bag of groceries. The cost for this ride was $2.23. We used one several hours later for a total of nineteen minutes to drop a book off at the library and pick up a prescription at Safeway. This ride cost $8.46. I must say it was eminently convenient to run these errands in a little Smart car, but still relatively costly. It should also be added that none of these destinations were accessible by bus.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

To Drive, or Not to Drive

One afternoon, after getting off the number 4 bus on Galer, we heard the wind whistle through the radio towers atop Queen Anne. There are three altogether. The third is further to the west. These two rose high in the sky humming the rough overtones of a tempestuous sky. Rags of cloud blew through the girders. These three radio towers, seen from a distance, have always given Queen Anne hill a regal look. The hill itself has an elevation of 456 feet, making it the tallest of Seattle’s seven hills. The tower furthest to the east, the KING TV tower, is the one chosen to hang Christmas Lights on every winter, the day after Thanksgiving. The tower was erected sometime in 1947 and made its first television broadcast on November 10th, 1948. Seattle had six hundred televisions. A crowd gathered downtown at Frederick & Nelson’s department store. In order to strengthen the fuzzy image within the studio, the crew applied white powder, which gave them a cadaverous look. For further contrast, and so that it might be apparent that mouths were moving and words were being shaped by animate skin, men applied brown lipstick, women blue. They looked like zombies. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

I’ve begun daydreaming about owning a car again. I get headaches from it. I’m heavily conflicted. The idea of getting into a car again, a car that we own, that awaits our every whim in the back parking lot, fills me with joy. But I’m against cars by principle. They’re destroying the planet. The consume gas and oil and emit toxic fumes. Thousands of arable acreage is covered with asphalt and concrete to accommodate their grease-leaking hulks of rubber and steel.  Instead of soaking into the earth the way rain is intended to do, percolating down to nourish roots and worms and microorganisms, it flows into the sewage system and thence into Puget Sound where it creates a contrasting brown with the sound’s usual midnight blue of white-capped waves. But we have come to find that riding the bus is effortful and time-consuming and I miss driving. I miss shifting rears, maneuvering in traffic, listening to my CDs at full volume, and subverting time and space with heady accelerations. I miss the convenience of having a car at our immediate disposal. It’s an addiction. The walk to the bus stop, the wait for the bus, the gymnastics of riding the bus, are not that bad. And you don’t need to pay insurance or get speeding tickets or parking tickets or search for a place to park. Yet I long for the complexities of a car, and cannot get the image of a shiny Subaru Impreza out of my head. The delicious curve of a steering wheel. The sound of a seat belt clicking together. The wistful glow of dashboard lights.
Roberta signed up for a Car2Go. We haven’t been able to use it yet. It takes days to get the card, or whatever they send you in the mail that will allow her to activate one of their cars. It’s like applying for a passport. The Car2Go gives me a lot of anxiety. I’ve read less than enthusiastic things about their call center. And the range of things that can go wrong is quite formidable, including not being able to log off while the clock is still ticking and you’re being charged by the minute and the call center has you on hold for an interminable amount of time, or being immobilized in Seattle’s dense immovable traffic, or getting into a fender-bender with a clueless adolescent with no insurance, or an attorney in a brand new BMW. What happens then?
Today the sky is a mottled disarray of blue and gray. The day feels neutral and vague. I make some scrambled eggs and slather some strawberry jam on a piece of toast and watch some people in Switzerland argue in French on TV Monde. I can only pick up certain phrases. The thin woman with the thick black shoulder-length hair appears to be in distress concerning some beach property that belongs to the family. She has a son with a mental disability. She talks to a young man full of hope and enthusiasm who tries to encourage her to take some form of action to defend the beach property, though I can’t tell what it is specifically. Another man, who appears to be her husband, is a sourpuss. He appears to be in a lot of pain. He’s never happy. He’s always at work and when he’s interrupted by the woman he gets angry. Abruptly, there is a scene in which she’s swimming in the lake. The water must be freezing, but she appears very relaxed.
I will not be swimming in Lake Washington this year. I don’t want to get sick like I did last summer and spend an entire day in the hospital having antibiotics dripped into my veins. I will go swimming in the imagination. I will twang and twinkle and dream. I will weave sensations of the outer world into inner worlds and roll the inner worlds into the outer world by way of language. By way of sentences. By way of a brain crawling toward a thought, delicate as the heart of a bubble. Is there anything more explicit than a human leg? There is meat loaf. There is a man playing a lute. There is the clash of cymbals.
Yesterday I saw a fire engine on fire. Black smoke billowed out of the cab. The fire engine was parked right in front of the station, a temporary station, which is a large white tent. I wasn’t sure if this was intended as an exercise or not. The firemen were dressed in their fire-fighting gear and running a hose of water into the cab to the put the fire out. How in the world does the cab of a fire engine catch fire?
I think about fire. I think about words. I think about money. James Kunstler writes that the Federal Reserve intends to juice the financial markets with U.S. Treasury bonds and miscellaneous securities with the goal of putting downward pressure on longer-term interest rates and thus supporting economic activity and job creation by making financial conditions more accommodative. Which is a polite way of saying fake wealth. Smoke and mirrors.
There is often a kind of poetry to finance. Their operations are so delightfully abstract. And unreal. Money has no reality. Its value has no reality. You can’t eat money. You can’t eat gold or silver. Where does value come from? Who makes value? What is extrinsic value? What is intrinsic value? Intrinsic value is value that something has “in itself,” or “for its own sake,” or “in its own right.” Its value does not derive from anything else. Thomas Hobbes believed the goodness or badness of something to be constituted by the desire or aversion one may have regarding it. David Hume also subscribed to the view that all ascriptions of value involve projections of one’s own sentiments onto whatever is said to have value. This makes it the whole argument subjective and muzzy. It does not help me decide whether having a car is of higher value than not owning a car. Neither Thomas Hobbes or David Hume drove cars.
John Dewey, who did drive a car, at least once (he hit a tree), suggested that since the world is always changing in such a way that the solution to one problem becomes the source of another, and that what may be an end in one context is a means to an end in another, it is a mistake to seek a timeless list of goods and evils, of goals to be attained for their own sakes.
Which makes intrinsic value all the more elusive. This is I know: rivers inspire reverie. Sunlight penetrating the foliage of a thick forest is beautiful. When a hedge of wild lilac loses its petals the sidewalk gets a thick coating of deep blue petals. A window without a dream is just a window. When an image crashes among its words the sentence convulses into a coat hanger. Removing a hinge pin and coating it with olive oil will quiet a squeaky door. Chaos gets our attention. Car rental agencies never give you the economy car you request but a much bigger car which also happens to be the only car available at the moment take or leave it. Perceptions wander my skin when I shave. A horse is virtuous and paper when it is written in blue ink. Cézanne discovered a universe of cubes on a prominence of rock. There is a pivotal point in everyone’s life where one’s narrative trajectory alters quite dramatically and goes in a different direction. Nature is a riddle. There is a latent pterodactyl in all of us, and DNA is a helix.
Why is DNA a helix? I find that curious.
So are fingernails. Fingernails grow with a strange rapidity.
The good news is that my Achilles tendon has stopped hurting. It stopped hurting the exact same day I ordered an aerobic step bench to exercise the tendon and prevent it from hurting. It had been hurting each day for over a month. And stopped. The very moment the sent for article was charged to our credit card. Some things are magic. Some things are not. They’re not exactly magic. They’re another phenomenon. One that involves coincidence, and credit cards, and luck.



Saturday, May 4, 2013

The World Is Everything That Happens

Four Elemental Bodies, poetry by Claude Royet-Journoud. Translated from the French by Keith Waldrop. Burning Deck Press, 2013.  

The ability to write a clean line with no shadow or metaphor is a testament to the ineffable grace of the Real, to the unrepresentable. There can be an object so real in a poem that it cannot be anything but itself, and so intensely itself, that the mystery of it leaves one speechless. Such is the work of Claude Royet-Journoud.
Four Elemental Bodies is a tetralogy consisting of four previous books by Royet-Journoud originally published in France by Gallimard: Reversal, The Notion of Obstacle, Objects Contain the Infinite, and Natures Indivisible (Le renversement, La notion d’obstacle, Les objets contiennent l’infini, Les natures indivisibles).
The title is apt. It has a scientific ring. Zukofsky, a clear influence on Royet-Journoud, brought a scientific attitude to poetic construction. “To the poet acting at once as observer and instrument the scientific standards of physical measurement are only the beginnings of images of poems… The poet, no less than the scientist, works on the assumption that inert and live things and relations hold enough interest to keep him alive as part of nature.”
Gustaf Flaubert urged a similar approach to this intensely objectified view of language over a hundred years earlier in a letter to Mademoiselle Leroyer de Chantepie dated December 12th, 1857: “Art ought to rise above personal feelings and nervous susceptibilities. It is time to give it the precision of the physical sciences, by means of a pitiless method.”
This scientific disposition toward objectivity, however, carries a hazard. If a language is too perfect, too precise, we cannot use it to think. It would be too constricting, too punctilious.  Wittgenstein’s famous axiom from his Logico-Tractatus Philosophicus: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world,” remind us that language is an adjustable medium and that by disrupting its structure we can investigate and confront those limits.  
“There is always a play between representation and the unrepresentable,” Royet-Journoud observed in an interview with Éric Pesty. “Yes, the unrepresentable. There is always this limit to language. This impossibility of at once being before and behind. One is always in language, one can never extricate oneself, it’s impossible. So, what can one do along this wall, without ever managing to get around it? One is effectively returned to this limit.”
The strategies Royet-Journoud employs for dealing with this dilemma are a reversal of the usual poetic devices. He eschews metaphor, assonance and alliteration. He writes in a tone of scrupulous neutrality, effacing the sovereign voice of the author and assuming the aspect of an elusive cicerone or phantasmal counterbalance to the reader’s or listener’s attention. His fragmentary lines have the flatness of surface to be found on a tabletop or sheet of paper. He lauds the “clear line” of Hergé, the Belgian comic book writer and artist best known for The Adventures of Tintin series. Hergé developed the “ligne claire,” a style of drawing that uses strong clear lines of uniform value in which shadows are often illuminated, and so lose their identity as shadows.

The problem resides in literalness (not in metaphor), Royet-Journoud remarked in an interview with Mathieu Bénézet, the need to measure language by its ‘minimal’ units of meaning. For me, Eluard’s verse ‘The earth is blue like an orange’ can be exhausted, it annihilates itself in an excess of meaning. Whereas Marcelin Pleynet’s ‘the far wall is a whitewashed wall’ is and remains, by its very exactness, and evidently within its context, paradoxically indeterminate as to meaning and so will always ‘vehiculate’ narrative. This might be experienced painfully.”

I am reminded of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s allusion to the tale of Peter Schlemiel in the Philosophical Investigations, in which the devil took the shadow of Schlemiehl from the ground in exchange for a bottomless wallet. Wittgenstein uses the story to propose a form of expression in which all the components have equal value, no element casts a lesser shade, but also to underscore the impossibility of separating thought from language: “Thinking is not an incorporeal process which lends life and sense to speaking, and which it would be possible to detach from speaking, rather as the Devil took the shadow of Schlemiehl from the ground.”
Thought and language are as interrelated as valves on a trumpet or buttons on a shirt. “Look at the sentence as an instrument, and at its sense as its employment,” Wittgenstein observed in section 421 of his Philosophical Investigations. Words are defined by their use, in the same way a piston is defined by its use as a moving component in a reciprocating engine, and whose purpose is to transfer force from an expanding gas to the crankshaft via piston rod and so move the sentence down the highway, or cause it to lift from the tarmac and enter the clouds.
“Rain makes the form appear,” appears on page 43 of Reversal. Reversal appeared in 1972 and was translated into English by Keith Waldrop in 1973. It’s a fascinating way to begin a series. Reverse position. Reverse ideas. Reverse verse. Reverse the question. Reverse the answer. Reverse the image so that we see impressions the letters make from the other side. “I would love to be here” writes Royet-Journoud at the bottom of what would be page 46 (it has no number), reversing the writer/reader relationship. What is here (there) are those six words, “I would love  to be here.” The reader is there. The writer is not. The writer’s words are there, if it can be said that those words belong to the writer. The conditional tense makes them even more tentative. Which is all any word is anyway: a tense, a tension, a tender.
The Notion of Obstacle makes evident what is a uniform and primal element in all of Royet-Journoud’s work, which is the whiteness of the page, the amount of space between the words and lines, which may also be registered in the air as silence. Silence, Royet-Journoud has claimed elsewhere, is a form. Silence is as definitive as the holes in a harmonica, or wings on a crane. Here, the word ‘obstacle’ may be taken literally, to mean a wall, a door, a rock, or a group of words that must be encountered on the page. Though if I break ranks with the literalism of the objectivist program, and give it a more abstract spin, it might be said that in Indian philosophy non-representational feelings are considered to be an obstacle to rational thought.
Até appears as a single word after the section titled “Name-Work” in The Notion of Obstacle.  ‘Até’ is the Greek goddess of mischief, delusion, blind folly and ruin. She was the eldest daughter of Zeus, forced to remain on earth as punishment for persuading Zeus to take an oath which enabled Hera to confer power on Eurystheus rather than Hercules. The starkness of this single name on the page is followed by a blank page on the reverse side, and the lines on the adjacent page: “that / blue / and unwithdrawing.” The words, each italicized, are separated by inches of blank space. The demonstrative pronoun ‘that’ gives the word ‘blue’ a perplexing intensity. Could it be the sky? The puzzling line “and unwithdrawing,” which appears some distance below, un-italicized, adds enigma and persistence to the word ‘blue.’ We do not know with certainty whether ‘blue’ is intended as a noun or adjective. My own addiction to metaphor runs contrary to Royet-Journoud’s eschewal of resemblance and comparison and I begin to read my own narrative into it: the words are remnants, bits of wood, rag, something washed ashore, providing clues to a former narrative.
Royet-Journoud has often referred to detective work as an explication for the enigmatic quality of his work, in particular the “minimal units of meaning” we find on the page. “I think that there is a narrative, as I said  -  a plot in a detective story  -  in the sense that there is always a search for a missing body,” he revealed in an interview with Mathieu Bénézet in 1981.

To state it concisely, there is an accident which permits legibility. How can I explain it? It’s rather like the restoration of a painting when a crack in the surface reveals another image underneath. At this point the real investigation begins. In order to find out what the nature or state of the hidden image is, the restorer scratches the surface in various places, provoking himself those accidents which permit the image to be deciphered. He needs to know if the covered painting is complete in order to proceed…Should he efface or restore the surface image, uncover or blot out the second image. It is not, in fact, a question of choosing between a real but imperfect surface image and a second image which is virtual but solicited. What counts is the “passage” from the surface accident to the virtual image; as the accident changes position, the investigation becomes integrated into the surface, which as a consequence becomes self-narrating. It is not surface and depth - old and new image, which defines my work, but this mobility constituted into the book.

It takes a great amount of time for Royet-Journoud to produce a book. He excludes himself from the population of writers who find themselves “inhabited” by language, writers who have been captivated by the spellbinding properties of language, its charms and enchantments, its Circean allures. It is his practice to write a great body of prose over a long period time, prose with no literary value, prose which he refers to as nothing, “Je passé mon temps avec rien et je m’obstine et j’insiste sur ce rien, et donc il y a d’abord ce travail qui est très corporel, qui consiste à écrire une grande quantité de prose sans valeur littéraire [“I pass my time with nothing and I persevere and I insist upon this nothing, and so there is at first this work which is very corporal, which consists of writing a great quantity of prose with no literary value”]. By “nothing,” I presume Royet-Journoud refers to the accidental, the everyday, the matter-of-fact, the barely perceptible. Details that do not appear to be charged with meaning in any way. He then culls through this material, extracting certain elements and distributing it over several pages, facing pages as well as recto-verso. In the next stage, he begins to work on the language, neutralizing the text, suppressing metaphor, assonance, alliteration, remaining attentive all the while to whatever narrative begins to emerge, whatever language begins to demonstrate carnality, physicality, embodying, as he puts it, “this language within a language.”
Hence, each of the books in this series is separated by five or six years. Objects Contain the Infinite appeared in 1983. The title comes from a paragraph in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Remarks:

In some sense or other, I must have two kinds of experience: one which is of the finite and which cannot transcend the finite (the idea of such a transcendence is nonsense even on its own terms) and one of the infinite. And that’s how it is. Experience as experience of the facts gives me the finite; the objects contain the infinite.  Of course not as something rivaling finite experience, but in intension. Not as though I could see space as practically empty, with just a very small finite experience in it. But, I can see in space the possibility of any finite experience. That is, no experience could be too large for it our exhaust it; not of course because we are acquainted with the dimensions of every experience and know space to be larger, but because we understand this as belonging to the essence of space. 

“To speak is to see your body,” Royet-Journoud writes in the section titled “Updated as Required.” Reading is spectral, hallucinatory. We can feel the weight of a book in our hands, but the letters carry desire in silence, and engorge it with imaginative energy. Language is a mediating instrumentality. It can limit and exclude, but it may also extend and open. It can cut. It can bleed. It can serve as a fulcrum of primary being. But here, I fall into the error of metaphor.
Since metaphor is a reference to something else, it detracts from the reality at hand, that which is most immediately there, within our field of perception. Royet-Journoud seeks a pre-meaning, a disequilibrium of incompletion in which the book is in perpetual movement, which he refers to as a “denudation successive,” a continual unveiling which generates the fiction that is at the heart of language. The goal, in other words, is to arrive at a self-generating narrative that keeps meaning indeterminate and in constant motion. There is a paradox here, because by revealing language to be a fiction, there is equally an attempt to contradict that fictionality and use that very resource to arrive at something real. “On tourne autour d’un drame, d’une éngime,” Royet-Journoud revealed in an interview with Éric Pesty, “De la suture de la fiction et d’un reel hypothétique. C’est en ça que la construction est extrêmement delicate. Le moindre soufflé peut tout bilayer.” [One turns around a drama, an enigma. Of a suture of fiction and a hypothetical real. It is there that the construction is extremely delicate. The least puff of air can sweep it all away].
Merleau-Ponty expressed this value in the preface to Phenomenology of Perception,

Phenomenology is the study of essences; and according to it, all problems amount to finding definitions of essences: the essence of perception, or the essence of consciousness, for example. But phenomenology is also a philosophy which puts essences back into existence, and does not expect to arrive at an understanding of man and the world from any starting point other than that of their “facticity.” … It is also a philosophy for which the world is “already there” before reflection begins  -  as an inalienable presence; and all its efforts are concentrated upon re-achieving a direct and primitive contact with the world… It is the search for a philosophy which shall be a “rigorous science,” but it also offers an account of space, time, and the world as we “live” in them. It tries to give a direct description of our experience as it is. 

The section titled “Love in Ruins” is highly unusual as it consists of blocks of prose rather than single lines or individual words acting as electrons within the magnetic field of the page. “He brings to his books the truth of a body at a given moment,” Royet-Journoud writes on page 237, “Between sleep and fable.” What would that space be? The space between the stillness of a sleeping body and fable, a fictive realm? The theater comes to mind, the stage and its components. The jingle of a fool’s costume, a blind man leaping from a shallow bank.
The title Natures Indivisible brings to mind the atomism of the Roman poet Lucretius, and especially his magnificent poem De Rerum Natura, or On the Nature of Things. But there the analogy lies inert, a curious possibility, “another grammar.” Royet-Journoud does not predicate, or speculate. He presents. He unfolds. He uncovers. In the section titled i.e., which is Latin (id est) for “that is,” or “in other words,” are the lines “like thought / the resemblance / is at syllable’s edge.” The image creates its own vanishing. It is seemingly there, then not there, as our eyes drop from the edge into space, into the whiteness of the page. There is no resemblance, there is only the anticipation of resemblance. The final line of the poem on this page, “a nerve discerns daylight,” holds the attention to the geography of the page. But there, with the metaphor of geography I let the line slip away. Nerve, I remind myself, is a word. Word and nerve tangent to what is at hand. “something like sharpening a knife.”


Friday, May 3, 2013

In Which the Universe Gets Tossed

I’ve been sleeping closer to the ground lately. We dismantled the iron frame of the bed so that it could be refinished. The bed frame is iron with small brass finials in the shape of balls. The universe also got tossed. The universe was an inflatable black ball imprinted with the known constellations and galaxies. It was a mnemonic device for an astronomy class. Over the years, it had acquired a thick coating of dust. We kept it perched atop a pitcher and bowl I inherited from my grandmother. It nested perfectly there. The pitcher and bowl are porcelain and printed with blue flowers. The bowl reminds me of those scenes in westerns in which the gunslinger or sheriff or cowboy stay at a hotel with pretty white curtains and dip their hands into the soapy water and splash it on their face and wipe it off with a towel. Then they go and get in a gun duel.
Sleeping closer to the ground is not demonstrably different from sleeping a few feet higher. It has not had much effect on the quality of my sleep or dreams. The clock is harder to see; I have left my body up to get a look at it. I also have to reach a little higher to press the buttons on the CD player. I did get a terrible allergy from the dust when we dismantled the bed. Or at least that’s what I believe triggered the allergy. That, in combination with the tons of pollen floating in the air. The four day Pollencast on the Internet Weather Channel registers a very high amount of pollen.
Sleeping near the floor is a little like being on a raft. The bed is an ontological machine. We are born in a bed, often die in a bed, make love in a bed, get a taste of oblivion in bed when we fall asleep. We discover the essence of existence in bed. We lie in darkness. That’s when the carnival of thoughts and worries in our head light up and whirl around and keep us from sleeping.
I look up histamine on Wikipedia. Histamine is an organic nitrogen compound involved in local immune responses as well as regulating physiological function in the gut and acting as a neurotransmitter. Histamine triggers the inflammatory response. Don’t I know that! I’ve been sneezing up a storm and have gone through a box of tissue blowing my nose. I write a check to renew our Harper’s Magazine subscription. I blow my nose. I get a stamp to put on the envelope in which I have inserted a check. I blow my nose. I discover that the envelope has been prepaid. I don’t need a stamp. I return the stamp. I blow my nose. I take the letter out to the mailbox in the hallway. I come back. I go to the bathroom. I blow my nose. I blow my nose into a paper towel. Blowing my nose into a paper towel is so much more satisfactory than blowing my nose in a Kleenix tissue. The tissue is soft and falls apart. I can really let go with a paper towel.
The next day, I go for a run. I must be immune by now. In any case, the damage is done. Pollen or no pollen I’m going for a run. It’s too beautiful outside not to. Everything is dripping with haiku. I hear some wind chimes hanging by someone’s door on a white porch, see buds beginning to appear on the chestnuts on Bigelow. Pink blossom on a green Corolla. A police cruiser passes me as I run down 8th Avenue West, the street with a panoramic overlook of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. The cruiser stops near the intersection of 8th Avenue West and West Galer Street and a police woman gets out and goes searching for something in the trunk. I wonder what’s up. I pass her and see a motorcycle cop giving directions to a driver. His motorcycle is parked nearby, on Galer. I try to make sense of this narrative. They must be preparing for something, but what? This isn’t the place for marching or demonstrations. There are no banks to rob. Has there been a burglary? Was the suspect caught?
As soon as Roberta gets home, I find out what happened. A 35-year-old man got in an argument with a 50-year-old man at the bus stop at the corner of Denny and Aurora Avenue. The 35-year-old man assaulted the 50-year-old man and the police were called. The police arrived. The 35-year-old man somehow managed to steal a cruiser and the police gave chase. The man crashed into the retaining wall at 8th Avenue West and Olympia Place. It must have happened shortly after I ran by. We look up an article about it online. There is the cruiser, hanging over the rise in the street, the railing smashed.
At around 11:30 p.m. we go to bed. I put on CD number 4 of Mark Twain’s Roughing It and get under the covers. “On the seventeenth day we passed the highest mountain peaks we had yet seen, and although the day was very warm the night that followed upon its heels was wintry cold and blankets were next to useless.”