Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My Life in Prepositions


Thanks to prepositions I can be on drugs, get into music, sway under the influence and rock around the clock.
I can jump over a creek, walk through a forest, crawl into a sleeping bag, sleep under the stars, wander into dreams, and wake up feeling down.
I can drink from a bottle, sit at a computer, work on a novel, go out of my head and hover over a page like a helicopter with hair. 
I can stand by, step aside, step up, step down, walk around, understand, underbid, undergo, undercut, underdress and understate.
I can go underground overdrawn in overdrive overflowing with overgrowth.
I can get over a cold, fall into love, grow to maturity, sink into despair, fly off the hammer, get back at a gnat, pull on a pullover, pass through a door, hose down a house, walk across the street, have lunch at a diner, eat with a fork, talk to a cook, come home and listen to Aftermath.
I can lean against a wall among thoughts and reflections or get in between some words and alter the course of a sentence or stand firmly behind an opinion or walk along a high wire balancing a cat a monkey and a chicken or feel throughout my body the movement of blood in circulation or aside from that write letters to Mr. Bean or by means of growing wings assume the life of a bird.
I can travel beyond our solar system and look at planet earth from a long way off and maybe encounter forms of life that have different prepositions than we do prepositions that reflect another dimension say a fourth dimension in which space is very different and is mostly acetylene laughter exotic swimsuits and weddings in semantic luminescence.
I can feel a stretch of sand made beautiful by the cold hard objects of the sea. 
I can fly around over under sideways down remembering the Yardbirds on YouTube.
I can watch the newspaper fall to the floor with all of its news and photographs and come to rest and stay there until someone picks it up and puts it into the trash bin with all the other tragedies and wars and murders and weddings and obituaries and comments and editorials.
Because that’s what prepositions do. They occupy space. They spur conditions. They cut the air. They humor the words of a sentence into performing ordinal acrobatics. And there’s not much I can do without them. I can’t go up. I can’t go down. I can’t understand a single thing. I can’t get over my dismay. I can’t stand by anything I say. Nothing unfolds. Nothing suspends. There is nothing to stand for.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Words in Chains


Words in chains are mechanical and garish. Thistle insinuates hamburger in public and the words go careening through a paradox of rags. Nerves generate the delicacy of a pond and an elegy of cork blasts into clothing. The red gleam of a traffic light gleams on everyone’s hoods. We are all drivers. We are all behind the wheel of a sedan, a chariot of rubber and metal. This makes life a finger. A palette, if you will. The stars help Van Gogh’s canvases into existence. Candles do the rest. Nectar is aboriginal. Yoga mimics the fall of drapery. I would use a stomach for digestion, though a brain is better for the digestion of meaning, which is tough and juicy, and tastes like impulse. The constant barometric pressure of a maraschino cherry. Stars cackling in oblivion. Well, it’s not funny, not really, but who can help laughing? Eternity is a joke, like the behavior of water. The punch line never stops. There is nothing that does not in some way feed on the realm of the eternal. Luster is appointed by county sheriff. Poetry is an engine, an ecstasy of pistons and goo in which wool equals wool and conviction gouges music out of calculus. Yes, calculus, that catalogue of mathematical expression in which popcorn anticipates the architecture of a lip. What is life? Oysters. Embarcation. Biology and wax. The blue of the sky unbosoming itself in bells. The majesty of puddles whose calm reflects the rambling clouds and a moose on the loose. Rattan ejaculates rattan. And a chair is born, with someone sitting in it, I believe it is a man named Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. What’s he doing here? Did someone invite him? Oh well, never mind. Who am I to judge? I just live here, that’s all, hinged to commas like a common lawnmower painted by hand. Yes, I will find meaning in anything, no matter what. Even scabs. When you think about it, scabs are sometimes the beginning of scars, which are the cuneiform of the skin. Let us then build an aluminum Superman whose cape is mirror-like and reflects a heavenly spinal cord. Judgments are the accumulation of many different opinions. If anything is to carry true weight, it must be nailed together carefully, you can’t just shrug it off and expect your identity to start the car. Identity is only an expression of Spanish diplomacy and goes on all summer. And then it becomes geometric and seeks out various adjectives to hang from its nipples like tassels, or padlocks. But look, there’s a vacancy at the motel! Finally, something that we can agree on as we move ever so much closer to the divine. We are but dust in the wind, so the song goes, and there goes John Wayne in Stagecoach, happy at last to be out west and in front of a camera. Must philosophy always be this elusive? When the wind goes through the trees making everything wiggle and murmur it is then that I feel the universe is talking, enchanting us with its own special language, which is one of glamour and geniality. The breath of angels. The sound of crustaceans walking across the sand in a clatter of assertion. The afternoon in its stupor of stone boils with genius, the dividends of nudity, the lips breaking into lagniappe and metaphor. The aromas of Rome the salts of France the dunes of Algeria. This division between life and death which is but an illusion. It ceases to appear that way when the oboe begins its solo, fleshy and reckless as a tongue, and the orchids dance in the whirling air.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Before and After


Before I begin to boil, I think of zeros. Do zeros boil? What is the temperature of boiling? Why am I boiling?
After I’m brought to a boil I evaporate. Do zeros evaporate? Now that I’ve evaporated, I’m a zero. I can write anything I want.
Before I begin to diagram the intensity of rain, I accrue interest in the milk of paradise. What exactly is the milk of paradise?
After I look up the Milk of Paradise on Wikipedia, I put everything in majuscules because the Milk of Paradise is now the Milk of Paradise. Which is Laudanum.
Before I exaggerate the effects of the river, I describe the river. The river is a tarantula of water walking over the land in mathematical diamonds. Mathematical diamonds are different from real diamonds. Real diamonds look like broken glass and are mined in slavish conditions by men who descend deep into the earth in temperatures as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit where silica dust is an ever-present potential hazard so that all drilling dust and loose rock has to be wetted down to prevent silicosis, a lethal disease that attacks the lungs. Mathematical diamonds are imaginary and abstract and resemble the occurrence of bones when it is silver and long like a neck and moves luridly and powerfully over the land making everything shiny and wet and the glint of the water gurgles and burbles in a song of ice.
After I exaggerate the effects of the river I realize I have not exaggerated it enough because it is still walking around in this sentence as if it were Bob Dylan or something.
Before I go to bed I grab a copy of Finnegans Wake so I’ll have something to read before I go to sleep and a pair of earphones to listen to the radio when I’m still not sleeping and I can listen to a bunch of wacky talk on Coast to Coast Radio about hairy humanoids stalking young ranch-dwelling women, wolfmen, dogmen, large predators, ultraterrestrials and Black-Eyed Kids.
After I get up the next morning I make breakfast and watch the news on TV5 Monde, a French cable station. The lead story is about the crash of Flight AH5017 in the desert of Mali carrying 116 people from Burkina Faso to Algiers. The camera moves over the ground revealing small debris, a piece of metal there, a piece of wing there, the ground blackened with fire and impact.
Before sitting down to do some writing on the computer, I have to play with the cat. Otherwise he will keep getting on my lap, tapping me on the arm, attacking my feet and going behind the couch to play with the wiring which he knows bugs me.
After playing with the cat, I procrastinate doing any writing by looking up the month of August, 1964 on Tunecaster to see what the hit songs were for that month fifty years ago. I don’t remember most of them except “How Do You Do It” by Gerry and the Pacemakers, “A Hard Day’s Night” by the Beatles, “The Girl from Ipanema” by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto, “Under the Boardwalk” by The Drifters, “Tell Me” by the Rolling Stones, “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena” by Jan and Dean and “The House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals. It is the latter song that changed the course of my life. I went from being a goofy teenager riveted to late night movies on TV to a serious minded teenager riveted to a late night movies on TV.
Before opening the hatch on my spaceship, I check to see what the temperature on the Martian desert is. It’s 68 degrees Fahrenheit, but with only trace amounts of oxygen. The atmosphere is 96% carbon dioxide, 2.1% argon, 1.9% nitrogen and full of suspended dust particles, giving the Martian sky a light brown or orange color, which is quite pretty, but also mesmerizing in its otherworldly calm.
After donning my spacesuit, I walk to the lip of a crater and look down to see a swimming pool surrounded by ghostly, holographic figures lounging poolside or floating on inflatable mattresses. I recognize Johnny Carson, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, Jim Morrison, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Emily Dickinson, Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Sarah Bernhardt. I go down to join them but they all disappear as soon as I get to the bottom. I find this irritating, but what can you do? Sometimes an hallucination is just an hallucination.
Before returning to earth, I check the control panel and fire up the engines. Everything seems to be in order, though I don’t like the rattle coming from the ion thrusters.
After returning to earth, I run for president. I am soundly defeated. I decide to give up politics.
Before going for a run, I check the weather on the computer: it’s 71 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity at 58%, precipitation 0%, and wind at one mile per hour. That means I’ll wear a short-sleeved shirt instead of a long-sleeved shirt, short pants and running shoes. I’m not into the barefoot movement.
After running, Roberta and I have dinner and watch the first episode from Deadwood. We’ve recently finished the Lovejoy series in which Ian McShane played a roguish antiques dealer and were eager to see him again as the sleazy saloon owner, often referred to as the “slimy limey,” Al Swearengen, who was an actual historical figure and a key player in the development of Deadwood, South Dakota. He ran a notorious brothel named the Gem Theater for 22 years, combining a reputation for brutality with an uncanny instinct for forging political alliances. As McShane plays him, he is cagey, splenetic, devious, tough, callous, colorful in speech and very, very smart. As his character evolves, one discovers sides to his nature that suggest a nobler being hidden beneath the layers of sociopathic villainy. According to the obituary of the actual Al Swearengen, he was found dead in the middle of a suburban Denver street on November 15th, 1904. The cause of death appeared to be a massive head wound.
Before sparkling, my drivel swells into a hammer which I use to build a word house.
After my word house is built, a pair of nouns move in and raise a family of adjectives.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Brief Visit to the Nineteenth Century


I have collected in emptied Gatorade bottles and other assorted plastic containers what must be six or seven gallons of water; enough to flush the toilet several times, wash my hands, maybe a few dishes. Who knows. Maybe even “shower” if the water department doesn’t have the water back on by 2:00 p.m. as they promised. It will be cold. But I can pour water over my head. I know I can do that because I’ve seen it done in a gazillion westerns. The day of the big showdown what does the handsome gunslinger do? He goes to a pitcher and bowl in the window of his hotel room overlooking Main Street and sloshes himself with water so that he can smell of lavender when he puts on his Colt .45 and strides out the door to his victory or his doom.
That’s correct. I’m about to go on a journey back in time to the Nineteenth Century. To Jesse James and outhouses and women in Victorian dress baking bread and stuffing poetry in drawers with lacy underthings and sachet bags. To muddy main streets dotted with horse dung. To creaky windmills, player pianos, enticing lounges, inviting easy chairs, jolly prostitutes and antimacassars. To stubborn mules and gold nuggets and babbling brooks. To the hand-cranked pump on my grandmother’s prairie farm. To squeaky brass beds and horse blankets and chickens everywhere. To player pianos and hot air balloons and P.T. Barnum and the Pony Express.
And to what or to whom do I owe this voyage back into time? Sir Richard Branson? Bill Gates? Larry Page? Sergey Brin? The ghost of Steve Jobs?
Nope: the Seattle City Water Department.
The main water valve to our building is shutting off at 8:30 a.m. in order to prevent any debris or impurities into our water system. The water department is shutting the water off at 9:00 a.m. to repair a main water valve for our neighborhood. Water will be shut off for X number of households within an area of approximately ten city blocks.
This is a first. First time that I’ve lived in a modern U.S. city in which the water was turned off for an entire neighborhood. And remember, this is Seattle, not Detroit. This is the city of Amazon and Boeing and Starbucks and Microsoft.
This is not, admittedly, the first time I’ve had my water turned off. That happened forty-five years ago, the same year in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left boot prints in the lunar dust.
I’d been living for two weeks in a small trailer in Arcata, California in back of a Mexican restaurant. I was renting the trailer from an old man named Rocco who was forever digging and planting potatoes in a small vacant lot, wearing a welder’s cap and maintaining a small drop of snot on the tip of his nose that never seemed to gain quite enough mass to go ahead and drip to the ground.  He was illegally tapped into the Mexican restaurant’s water supply. Whether they were privy to this use or complicit in the malfeasance, I don’t know. What I do know is that my water one day disappeared and I had to walk to the water department before attending classes at Humboldt State to find out what was going on. I walked into a spacious office where a number of clerks and water officials looked up at me. I explained the situation. They told me the water was shut off because it was illegal to obtain water that way. But what am I supposed to do? No answer. A shrug of the shoulders. That’s your problem, buddy.
But an entire neighborhood? This is a first. Something, the guy at the Water Department explained (after a solid twenty minutes of listening to Irish dance music on the telephone and being bounced from one official to another), to do with a main water valve requiring urgent renewal.
Which leads one to wonder how it managed to find itself in such drastic condition in the first place. I mean, check me if I’m wrong, but we did put a man on the moon forty-five years ago, right?
Right. So what was that again? A bad water main. Which (according to the aforementioned official who fielded my cranky call) would be very bad if it weren’t replaced. Meaning everyone’s furniture will be floating in muddy water all the way to the ceiling if it breaks.
So at 8:30 this morning it’s goodbye, 21st Century. Hello, Nineteenth Century.
Meanwhile, as if in blatant mockery of the situation, it’s raining. Hard. I can hear it. The trickle trickle pitter pattery shhh shhh sound of rain pelting leaves and soil. It’s a chill November day. Except it’s not. November, that is. It’s late July.
Seriously: late July. And it’s like frigging November outside. Goodbye planet earth, it was good knowin’ ya. Hello whatever planet this is. The planet in which Florida, the Florida Keys and the Maldives disappear. The planet in which tornados and hurricanes of enormous freakish power become the norm. In which mass extinction occurs. In which the water department shuts off the water supply to the households of a major city. To repair the valve to the rickety water main. Which dates from the Nineteenth Century, I’m guessing.
I get some breakfast made and the dishes cleaned before the water disappears. Scrambled eggs, toast with strawberry jam, grape juice. I’m ready now. Ready for the Nineteenth Century. Ready for Regency Dress, candlelight dinners, hay rides, cattle drives, Winchester repeating rifles, Buffalo Bill, Sitting Bull, stovepipe hats and gunslingers. Ready for rowdy saloons, swinging chandeliers, frilly hoop skirts, ballroom dances and Walt Whitman. Good old Walt. It’ll be great to see the old guy again. Thank you Seattle City Water Department. Thank you for this brief visit to the Nineteenth Century. Thank you for helping me to appreciate the miracle of running water. It is, truly, a miracle. Thank you for this miracle. I mean, once you get everything running again.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Understanding Marble


First the neon is manipulated into utterance. Then the listening reaches meaning. Conflict vowel the gorilla suddenly buttons. I am antennas pounding toward a hose as biology assumes the comedy of eyes, he thinks. Sweat since amaryllis flames. The enzymes meanwhile maintain a clever inflammation, or memory. The blood groove door stiffens vowels into hurricane characteristics. Society is palpable. It makes musical sense in and of itself. Beard how lagoon buckles the guitar of heated coagulate. Tabled momentum. Proud scarf parts rhapsody wheel sprinkling how propellers diamond like the epitome of noon. Native gloss shining on another river. Ding-a-ling since the microphone has life. An epidemic gland pumping nations of blood. A nation is a form of rhythm, or distinction, which organizes itself so that its gaps become visible. I brush my teeth with everything especially water, blood pulsing through a kink in the hose, at which point the safari must be a naked wire. We put our things in a locomotive history jarred in feeling. Gorillas pitch tacks. My lettuce brims with words floating in air. Frederic Remington messes with the timid bureaucracy of mass to make it all brawl. I have rapids pouring personality on a kitchen string. Saxophone which seemed to be a salamander ordnance. An adhesion to bamboo is a kind of diagrammatic cake. Busy tools of cinnamon farm bubbles with grass and nerves knotted in confluent air. Surf spreading with the cacophony of a cafeteria. The sound of form throbbing principle which energy necessitates to cherish an insect. I am out entirely grooved and cupped as if by birds. The fulfillment of flavor is clay for digesting lightning. Acorns pound toward the city ever since pentameter shattered the gates of philosophy. Thus coal lines the arithmetic intestine. Generous bold laughter. Surgery at dawn in a cage of ice and fire. There has to be an aura. A gathering for the mind. Death is a nozzled insinuation. Suddenly the timid fat that makes the tempo goofy is modestly aquatic. Reading is inundation. A form of incense falls on the arena and discerns special lighting effects. Once I intoxicated a bowl of equal temperament with logarithms until it spit pure distilled rage. Asphalt is embouchure. The management causes the arteries to expand with conflict. The saddle that indulges bruises. Notions of mud savor a gap not for its radius but for its mass. The membrane emits blue light at a muscular thought. Thought is muscular to anything that floats. Graceful eyebrow, or lumber. At such streams area argues life and carries black to huge saturations of coal, dimes between the guns plucked from a stem of intonations to strengthen the sunflowers till the pitch of eternity sails black when the moon is white and pink hemorrhages music. An apricot wound is never the same because its mimicry is thinking. Asparagus argues music. Indigo indicates that no emotion can exist without faucets and dripping and pork chops. Noise is bolted to cactus. It is instrumental to move with the moisture into dogwood, and then feel a glad idea of husks when the crocodiles become tools for this philosophy of fire to get laughing. A magnet is a dog. A dog is a magnet. Everything else is chemistry, an enticement toward understanding marble.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dark Matter


Astrophysicists tell us that there is a dark matter in space which cannot be seen directly with telescopes because it neither emits nor absorbs light or electromagnetic radiation at any significant level. It’s simply matter that isn’t reactant to light. Its presence is inferred from its gravitational effects on visible matter, discrepancies between the mass of large astronomical objects and the luminous matter they contain in the form of stars, gas, and dust.
This astrophysical revelation has created a paradigm shift à la Nicolaus Copernicus. His De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), published in 1543, presented an alternative model of the universe to Ptolemy’s geocentric system. Suddenly, human beings were no longer at the center stage of a universe created for our benefit. We were floating around a sun, just one of a million other suns, on a large ball of rock and gas.
Our comprehension of the universe was rocked again in 1932, the same year that Mickey Mouse was first syndicated, George Burns and Gracie Allen debuted as regulars on the Guy Lombardo Show, and Adolf Hitler got his German citizenship.
1932 was the year that Dutch astronomer Jan Oort shook the scientific world by demonstrating that the Milky Way rotates like a giant Catherine Wheel and that all the stars in the galaxy were “travelling independently through space, with those nearer the center rotating much faster than those further away.” This indicated that some immense gravitational pull exerted by an invisible matter must be the cause. Oort developed parameters that show the differential rotation of the galaxy called Oort Constants. From these it’s possible to infer the mass density of the Galactic Disk, much of which appears to be invisible. There, but not there. What may be holding it together is something called WIMPS (weakly interacting massive particles) that interact through gravity and the weak force, which is responsible for the radioactive decay and nuclear fusion of subatomic particles, and is sometimes called quantum flavordynamics.
This means that roughly 96% of the universe is missing. It’s made of stuff astronomers can’t see, detect, or even comprehend.
I find the implications of this quite enchanting. That is to say, the knowledge that there are phenomena not available to my senses nor for that matter highly sophisticated scientific apparatus offers quite a promising path for speculation. If there are phenomena not perceivable by way of our senses, how much that is “out there” eludes our sight and hearing and taste and touch and smell?
Dark matter appears to be composed of a type of subatomic particle not yet defined, quantum flavordynamics aside. I love these anomalies. The insinuation of snow where there can be no possibility of snow. Where snow is an idea, a potential, a matter in consciousness wrestling our perceptions into some mode of apprehension, despite their worldly configuration. Snow isn’t dark matter, but as matter goes, it’s pretty weird stuff.
So are lobsters. And rattlesnakes and waterfalls. But this is a weakness. I am encroaching too much on the perceptible world to suggest the imperceptible. Ghosts, for instance. The whole timid map of Hamlet’s hesitations and all those flowers Ophelia mentioned before she drowned like a water lily overcome by the imagery of romance. We all know there is something else, some other thing or things in existence that we can almost apprehend but that elude language, the efforts we make with words to paint phenomena into existence, into palpability. Into flame, sod, and linear momentum. Mohair, wisdom, a pudding of sound produced by a zither in a cave somewhere in Spain. The Yukon at dawn. An antique emotion moving around in our blood like a cat.
A black cat with iridescent eyes and a murderous ease. 
Is there a sound for sand? When sand is barely moving but evidence of its moving is available to the fingers, its grains tricking between our fingers in equations of fluent particularity?
There is a certain aroma in Rome that hints of lamps. That meanders over the kneecap like a hand. There is nothing mechanical about the numeral zero. Zero is not available to our nerves. It stands for nothing, means nothing. Literally. It is a sign for nothing. But zeros are involved in the search for dark matter. Quadratic equations attempt to unify vacuum energy, radiation and dark energy with a constant density equaling that of a Planck density and by doing so reveal (if we are lucky) the symmetry of an early universe of vacuum energy plus radiation with our more recent universe with radiation and dark energy. These are polytropic equations, or the raw spontaneity of conjurations made on the spur of the moment. In any event, all quadratic equations require the use of zero, as if zero were a kind of singing, an acacia in back of a church that anchors itself in the imagination when there is nothing else there to indicate cobblestones or gerunds. Nothing that isn’t ambiguous, ambivalent, or trout. Our blood will be our salary. Our heat will be our morality. Everything else is intricate and exponential, and so the room expands, and the heart with it, as our words emerge from the vinegar of description to reflect the message of parallels coming from the prodigal wildlife of a temperature in love with pi.
Dark matter, indeed. Words just glitter out of it, as if born there, as if born to a medium that breaks in the hand like a pod of water lotus.
Look at the clouds some evening when the sun goes down, how they accumulate light, flare it out in reds and violets and oranges and turquoise, then darken into shapes the honky tonk moon turns to different matter. To matters of better understanding. The humility of gravel. The snapping of veins against a startling nipple of fleshly undulation. And the world is so perpetuated by these yearnings that something dark comes out of it and bounces into the eyes in a strudel of electrifying darkness. And one’s being lights up in such ecstasy, to know that existence can be this audacious, this ability to stick to itself with such lyrical mathematics that occurrence is a whirl with apricot declarations and unscrupulous temperatures. And escalators act like tides. And words grow large and borscht in their sugar of grace.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Desperado Earthquake


Desperado earthquake consonants walking into flight, deliberately boiling. Tumbles are similar to parakeets. You can open your mouth and let out a mutation. Dreaming is soft. Nerves tumid with candy branch out into rain. This is a way to suggest buds breed ermine and space hastens proof of a river to give birth to a scribble. And property and war. Lines in poetry happen when a color bangs into feeling. Propulsion is this occurrence of mountain, this consciousness which is hysterical. For mirrors are a daily peevishness to rhyme a door with or find understanding and resurrecting it in rivulets. I must come to a striking conclusion and say that on behalf of my habits I’m throwing you a shillelagh. Perception is the opera that follows the reeds to the wasp that peppers the air with buzz and photosynthesis. Branches sip the stars and products dwell in that which follows tumbling. That is a pleasant way to say popcorn pops best in a house of punctuation. Rain notwithstanding. Substance and crying is first adopted then rented then pulled into anything resembling watermelon. Understanding texture is spherical or black and movement is possible like a hotel. But a color, a color with a little meat on it can blow like a trumpet and if it follows my pen into description it may also seethe with music. A wasp has eyes and wings. Glowworms are overtures. And walnuts have plenitude in them transformation figures and auks on a sweatshirt that happens to be sincere. Platters that overrun convolution with notebooks. Musical crocodiles everyone could invoke, establishments of line swelling out with music. Note the orbiting tongue. Cake perpetuates merriment. Ballast puddles the flash. Go, pinch fifteen goldfish or jail the rain. The palm keeps its gasoline housed in its arteries. Mulch dogged by detachment. Bronze proclaiming symptoms of paper. This means mustang. And inventions like desperado thyroid escalators. The calculus of calamity. The coffee tub in a walnut and a rocket in an opera. One might conceive of a puddle as a parable. The skin of space by hooking packets of sugar embraces the grapefruit. The bamboo is not an illusion. Incense is more indiscriminate. Cold differentials jettisoned into crystallization, just like Friday. You isn’t fictive the crabs are its art as if phosphor flirts with calico and thirst plays with a suggestion in the mouth, creating a mood of introspection, wrinkled Cadillac and each headlight a marvel of engineering. The language of morning is an angel of plausible grammar. My mouth crashes through a poem but I cannot get the lid off of the jam jar. The use of a jukebox is that when its circles are lakes everywhere turns chrome and shines like a song. Build a river and everything quivers. Go crazy in a tent and fables of rotation turn ape and alp and tulips. The jeep has principles, dude. Pay attention. Always have postage available. You never know when the sand is going to riot in your shoes and getting a few pieces of sound down on a piece of paper will obtrude from you like theory. The stars outside the city are delicate as the skin of grapes. The air is gentle as jewels of light in a TV studio. Go wildly pictorial. You can do it. You can have it all. It makes you want to hunker down and disintegrate. Discover peculiar hormones and then go physical in a bowl of cream. Paper does everything it can to resemble vinegar. The Rolling Stones fishing for polyphony. And here I am a fringe on the outskirts of time. Lumps of constant relation to things. Twilight palms and dissipation. Drumming and gravity and color opening its bolts to stroll through a howl overflowing with church. Age is richly ornamented with slow salvos of dirt from your manifesto, my dear Dada Friend. Yes, you, the one with the desperado earthquake consonants on your lapel. Twinkling and flashing as if some voices were thick and others more like horticulture. I have overruled your servitude. My rhythms are going north. I have enough serration for a mountain of hacksaws. Tom Waits huddled in a tug. Airplanes in his hair. 
 
 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Song Brocade


There is a song of silk called Song Brocade. Brocade during China’s Song Dynasty put its emphasis on liveliness and color. Eye candy. Brilliant colors, exquisite patterns, a supple and resistant texture. Expensive and heavy, it wasn’t suitable for clothing, but had about it the bulk of sunlight. Its patterns dreamed in the woof and warp of graceful dexterity. It created a geometry of flowers and animals, clouds and dragons. Colors were divided into three categories: harmonic colors based on yellow, harmonic colors based on grey, contrasting colors based on red, green and orange. One imagines the sound of the looms as a clatter and a fabulous sincerity of effort, as if a kind of surgery were being performed, or consciousness loomed from wood.  

Evergreens swayed by the Yangtze. Rain puddled in the hollows of flagstone. Sandalwood incense brocaded the quiet air in the Temple of the Loom Spirit.  

Jîn is Chinese for ‘brocade.’ As in: 水中的涟漪在阳光的照射下似锦缎布匹一样光滑油亮。
“The ripples on the water are as smooth and bright as a brocade under the sunshine.”  

English brocade comes from Italian broccato, meaning “embossed cloth,” panno in rilievo, and has the same root as the word “broccoli.” In Italian, the verb broccare means “to stud, to set with nails,” which comes from brocco, small nail, which in turn comes from Latin broccus, “projecting, or pointed.” These words put my mind in relation with sharp things that poke, that are meant to penetrate cloth, and raise threads to a condition of legibility, in the same way that a pen might measle paper with the needlepoint of life, transcendence, transformation, the private soliloquys that whistle us into tumults of elaborated thought.  

Brocade occurs in writing when the intent is to make of language a tool of precision, a spigot of points, needles, gold, silver, silk, nebulous desires, communion, incarnations of text and texture, the energy of signs, of prophecies and fables, roots and origins, buffalo and pearls, ecstasies and convulsions, fabulous voyages, marriage propositions, death in the family, epiphanies, exotic wildlife, savage ruminations, mythological creatures, worms and Turkish harems.  

Themes are never truly singular but a matter of warps and woofs, a cross-weaving of contraries, an attempt to bring meaning and pattern to the arbitrariness of signs and experience. Mocassins and prayers mix with picks and ribbons, dragons and glowworms, glissandos of conscioussness resonant as Zhejiang gongs. The impulsion of blood the refinement of orchids. Time and gravity are cross-weavings of woof and warp in the loom of space. The semantic froth of allegory floats the creak and groan of speculative wood. The delicacy of sand reveals ripples of wind. There is a weaving of everything that stretches as far as the grandeur of time in infinity’s phantasmal silk.  

 

 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

In Defense of the 2nd Person


I was surprised the first time I encountered hostility toward the use of the 2nd person. What’s not to like about the 2nd person? The 2nd person is you, my friend. The wonderful utility of the 2nd person is that it can be you, and you, or you. There is a certain ambiguity as to whom the you happens to be. Who is doing the you-ing? Use of the you is tantamount to conducting an interior dialogue, but from the outside rather than the inside. This is wizardry. This is like a talking oyster. You, my sweet friend, you are a talking oyster, a marvel of biology, an emotion in the wild, a philosophy crackling with accusation. You are an identity heretofore hidden by a shell but now you’re in the open. You’re a glob of shiny muscle. You’re a steaming pronoun of dreamlike convolution. You resemble a vagina. You perturb the usual restrictions of identity with dislocation. You you you. You dot, you knot, you goblet of brine.
The 2nd person always sounds a little angry, a little accusatory. As in “you get up and make breakfast and find the Cheerios are gone.” Or, “You move into traffic dreaming of life in a big hotel.” If, for example, you had said “I get up and make breakfast and find the Cheerios are gone,” the statement invites a little sympathy. Or if you say “I move into traffic dreaming of life in a big hotel,” this, too, sounds a little wistful and sad. But to say “you move into traffic dreaming of life in a big hotel,” it suddenly has the faint implication of guilt, as if you were putting everyone on the road at risk because of your selfish daydreaming when you’re supposed to be giving your full attention to driving.
Each time the pronoun ‘you’ is uttered you can feel the weight of the intonation. The lonely ‘ooooo’ of that rounded vowel is a jewel of emotional availability. The vowel is open and so is the identity. You is wonderful for talking about pain. “You’re in pain and you don’t know what to do.” This is not just you, this is everyone who has ever been in pain.
You enters narrative space in a potash of smoldered logic. You’re integral to the shattered voice of monologue. You’ve become universal. You’ve become a calamity that occurs to everyone.
You is the lusicious voice of metaphysics. You are an eyeball creaking on a kitchen floor. You’re a body. You’re buxom. You’re in a room full of fruit. Your nose is a personality beneath the two dots that pass for eyes. You’re a cartoon. You’re unreal. You’re real. You’re so real you’re unreal.
You in a bathing suit riding a rocket to Mars. You feel raw and beautiful. You feel spasmodically tolerant. You feel adhesive and secret. You feel that sincerity is underrated and so you give voice to the fragrance of insinuation. You have the longitude of consciousness and the latitude of a hemorrhaging wisecrack.
You can do anything. You can go anywhere. You say light and a light appears. You wiggle like a cup of freshly poured coffee. You yells mood to the imponderable moment of meaning in a chopstick grammar. You noodle you. You strudel you. You you you. What’s not to like about you? 

 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Caliban's Dream


Today I’m feeling crabby and haggard and technology makes it easy to get to the point. Premonitions climb into my mind and glue words to my enzymes. Does that sound crazy? Of course it does. Totally fucking nuts. But what can I say? Have you ever read Barbara Guest? Or Shakespeare? Hobbes, Hume, Locke? I’m going to Mars. Fuck this planet. I’m out of here baby. I want a house on Mars where the little hairs on the arm can feel the hot wind of a barren landscape. Where the bizarre can bear the misanthropic larder of my logarithmic agonies. Where I can multiply the phosphor behind the eyes and sigh into miracles of depth. I’m fed up with my habits. I want new habits. Martian habits. Otherworldly habits. The embrace of oblivion the energy of words climbing out of their definitions and dancing in ablution. In exaltations of wildcat glitter. The candy of abstraction is such that a mint can provide the mouth with a blade of flavor. A drop of blood on the end of a charming knife. Side effects may include fidgeting, sandstone, and texture. I am turning magician. I am turning steam and steel. I can flip a color into talk. I can fiddle a contingency into convulsive salvation. I will out-Prospero Prospero. I will seek providence in spit, spirit in clouds of dust. Words will ride my emotions into ghostly pronouns of disfigured remembrance. I will bring with me the resilience of fish, the sterling apparitions of gaslight fog, sandwiches put together on quiet afternoons with alligator meat and the crisp lettuce of dissonance. I will do it with smoke and mirrors. This stuff called language. This stuff called consciousness. No one can chain consciousness. Consciousness is a ghostly condition: a rumor of waves. I call it a curse. I call it a formula. I call it a reticulum and a paradox. I call it polyglot. There are private excitements that sing in us their clumsy melodies and bring an incandescent clarity to flowers of the mind. I am a monster on earth but on Mars I will be natural as rock. I will feel what I want to feel and not feel ashamed. Here on earth I am the thick mud of life’s horrible sugar. I am the vinegar of failure. I am punished by my appetites. I am bearded in bees and tortured by swamp mosquitoes. I am done with the trinkets of earth. I am done with the petty ambitions and daily monotonies of freeway hell. Why Mars? you ask. Why such a barren place? Because I want to be free of desire. I want the opposite of desire. I am gluttonous for dust. For a throat of granite. It is language alone that properly speaks, and it speaks in solitude. It comes to presence in its essential unfolding. It comes to radiance in its essential being. I was once outside of it looking in. But now that I have the trick of it, I will use it to walk outside into the light. And that will be my theme. The theme of Caliban’s dream. How I used language to escape language. How I fed myself on nothingness. How I became desolate and yet full in my desolation. How I found infinite meanings in knots and spoons. How I turned delicate. How I, tormented and enchanted by unknown fevers, danced to a planet on a predicate.

 

 

 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Abstract Machine


It sometimes happens that a phantom expects bone and will travel into fulfillment in order to acquire a fat thought to put in a skull and think. Because thinking is what is said, and every human being endowed with understanding understands what is being said here, which is a matter of words, or nails holding wood together. And right away we catch ourselves in the act of picturing an object, a birdhouse, or word like endurance, which gulps its meanings in large drafts, and grows into a bikini, or some other form of apparel, something for the words to go into, something to hold the thought in a fold of matter. What I’m doing here is stressing the idea of structure to include an area of paper, a sheet of paper, which, like a sheet of canvas, will contain whatever wind may fill it, and so blow the ship and its cargo of metaphor across the globe, with all that salty water slapping its bow below, just look at it, white and foamy, each word put in front of another, or following upon one another like waves, which is what waves do, these swells of energy taking form in the water, revealing movement as a woman’s eyes reveal her thought, her mood, her necessities and inquiries. What was once a beginning, a behavior dropping its club on the ground and running into the clouds, now threatens to turn into chatter. This ought to raise serious questions regarding the nature of art itself. Does art in general need to be beautiful? Do the visual arts need to be representational? Do music and architecture, lacking a clear representational content, have other similar, expressive requirements? I have just the parable for this mode of inquiry. Think of a hive and all its honey, its swarm of bees, its wax and hexagonal cells. Think of it as syntax. Our ideas of the structures of language are formed in terms of syntax. Now imagine a viscount examining a viscous comb. The burden of thought is swallowed up in an explanation that dries into wings and compels expansion. Everything depends on the problematic. Such propositions stem from abstract considerations and are the exact counterpart of the fabrications of the age of technology, for the saying speaks where there are no words, but in the field between the words, which is quiet and incandescent in its clarity, its soft abandonment by the visible and its assumption by moss and whatever fugues happen to thicken the mud with contrapuntal viscosity. The fugue possesses a beauty of presence, and is the language of a thinking; it is that thinking itself. This is to say the odor of a novel in its emotion. Its busy little words traveling across a sheet of paper in a jumble of abstractions, folds of protoplasm jerking forward, assuming an identity, however inchoate, but moving, crawling, wriggling, squirming, entering into its essential nature, which is nothing less than a cloud of being, a hand uncurling its fingers, a thought awakening from its slumber in a lava lamp. It hails from elsewhere, and is part of what gives life, by its boiling and linear intricacies, by its openness and transparency and weightlessness, and by its preoccupation with surface as skin alone, and the salts and minerals of the earth return. There is no other way to account for Melville’s prose, or figure out how an escalator works. Gears, my friend, gears. It’s all in the way of syntax, the way of correlation, parts within parts, or whatever other relations may give the tableau its sparkle, its paprika, its geography and pavement stones.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Van Gogh's Shoes


In 1886, Vincent Van Gogh bought a pair of old shoes at a flea market. When he got them home to his Montmartre atelier and tried them on, he discovered that they didn’t fit. He decided to use them as a model and paint them. The shoes, which look more like boots, have high tops and thick rounded toes. They look old, absurdly old, and worn past endurance. The tops are floppy and droop with age. Everything about them is loose and worn and asymmetrical, a chaotic paroxysm of form. A haggard energy erupts from their dilapidation. It is as if their leather had grown so used to work and wear that even in its current state of fatigue it continued to hold on to life with recalcitrant tenacity. The painting is a monument to labor and a vigorous act of resurrection. No, the painter says with his brush, I’m not about to let you sink into desuetude that easily; I’m going to invest you with new life, soulful life, a life of shape and color and heart and stamina.
The shoes inspired an essay by Martin Heidegger who saw in this depiction of shoes the very essence of art. “The Origin of the Work of Art” is, in part, a tribute to Van Gogh’s shoes and a general exploration of the nature of art and reality. Heidegger described these shoes as evidence of the truth of being, as the unity of a manifold of sensations that define thingness and the kind of self-contained, irreducible spontaneity that invigorates the “workly character of the work in the sense of the work of art.” Heidegger emphasizes the concept of thingness throughout the essay, tears at it, fights with it, struggles to bring it into clarity, into epiphanic openness. He notes, first of all, that “there is nothing surrounding this pair of peasant shoes in or to which they might belong  -  only an undefined space. There are not even clods of soil from the field or the filed-path sticking to them, which would at least hint at their use. A pair of peasant shoes and nothing more.” “And yet,” he continues:
From the dark opening of the word insides of the shoes the toilsome tread of the worker stares forth. In the stiffly rugged heaviness of the shoes there is the accumulated tenacity of her slow trudge through the far-spreading and ever-uniform furrows of the field swept by raw wind. On the leather lie the dampness and richness of the soil. Under the soles stretches the loneliness of the field-path as evening falls. In the shoes vibrates the silent call of the earth, its quiet gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the fallow desolation of the wintry field. This equipment is pervaded by uncomplaining worry as to the certainty of bread, the wordless joy of having once more withstood want, the trembling before the impending childbed and shivering at the surrounding menace of death. This equipment belongs to the earth, and it is protected in the world of the peasant woman. From out of this protected belonging the equipment itself rises to its resting-within-itself.
This is a remarkably beautiful description. Heidegger wraps an entire gestalt around the shoes, a narrative of soulful reverie. I find it a little puzzling that he gives the boots a female use as there is nothing to indicate that these are a woman’s boots. Be that as it may, he emphasizes Van Gogh’s depiction as a painting of disclosure, an unconcealment of Being. Being in its large sense of existence, spit, blood, struggle, quest, imagination. “What happens here?” he asks, “What is at work in the work?” He uses the Greek word aletheia [ἀλήθεια]to describe the phenomenon. Alethia is variously translated as “unclosedness,” “unconcealedness,” “disclosure,” or “truth.” Its literal sense is “the state of not being hidden; the state of being evident.”
“The essence of art,” claims Heidegger, “would then be this: the truth of beings setting itself to work.”
Art creates a sense of openness. Openness is essential to Heidegger’s meaning. By openness is meant a free field in which the character of a thing displays its essential being directly. “Everything that might interpose itself between the thing and us in apprehending and talking about it must first be set aside. Only then do we yield ourselves to the undistorted presencing of the thing.”
Any endeavor to interpret an art according to a preset theory or formulation compromises our perception. “The attempt to interpret this thing-character of the work with the aid of the usual thing-concepts failed  -  not only because these concepts do not lay hold of the thingly feature, but because, in raising the question of its thingly substructure, we force the work into a preconceived framework by which we obstruct our own access to the work-being of the work.”
The best course is to allow the art to do its work, let it be, as the Beatles put it. Heidegger takes the word ‘world’ (German welt) and turns it into a verb: “The world worlds, and is more fully in being the tangible and perceptive realm in which we believe ourselves to be at home. World is never an object that stands before us and can be seen.”
Die Welt welten zu lassen: let the world be, and the world will become accessible. This is the artist’s intent: to make the world available to us. To let it stand on its own. For itself alone.
In German this is called Herstellung, production, manufacturing, fabrication, making. Literally, “setting forth.”
Heidegger refers to “temple-work,” an erection of the sacred in stone. But it can be anything, any material, any entity. It needn’t be a literal temple. The temple can be a work of art. The temple can be a pair of shoes. It is the material that comes forth. The material is crucial.
…the temple-work, in setting up a world, does not cause the material to disappear, but rather causes it to come forth for the very first time and to come into the open region of the work’s world. The rock comes to bear and rest and so first becomes rock; metals come to glitter and shimmer, colors to glow, tones to sing, the word to say. All this comes forth as the work sets itself back into the massiveness and heaviness of stone, into the firmness and pliancy of wood, into the hardness and luster of metal, into the brightening and darkening of color, into the clang of tone, and into the naming power of the word.
This is adamantly the case with Van Gogh’s shoes: “The more simply and essentially the shoes are engrossed in their essence, the more directly and engagingly do all beings attain a greater degree of being along with them… the more simply does [the work] transport us into the openness and thus at the same time transport us out of the realm of the ordinary.”
If we come at the work expecting it to produce this or that state of mind in us, we ruin the art. We become blind and deaf to the work. We must let the work work its work, world its world. We must let the work be itself. And this is poetry: art lets truth originate. “All art, as the letting happen of the advent of the truth of beings, is as such, in essence, poetry.” 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Glaucon Case


In Book II of Plato’s Republic, Glaucon relates the story of a shepherd who, during a violent rainstorm and an earthquake which breaks the ground and creates a chasm, descends into the fissure and discovers many wonders, including a bronze horse with window-like openings in it. The shepherd climbs through one and discovers a corpse wearing nothing but a ring of gold on its finger. He returns to his life above ground and, while playing with the ring, discovers that when he turns the hoop toward himself he becomes invisible, and when he turns it away from him becomes visible again. In short time, thanks to his newfound power, he seduces the king’s wife, kills the king with her help, and takes over the kingdom. The upshot of Glaucon’s story is that given the right opportunity, we will turn from the path of virtue and do what we can to achieve our ambitions, fulfill our pleasures, and abandon ourselves to unrepentant profligacy. “Even those who practice justice,” observes Glaucon, “do so against their will because the lack the power to do wrong.”
This is an incredibly cynical view. According to this logic, the only reason we behave with any virtue at all is because we’re seen by other people. Our real inner nature is chronically frustrated by the constraints imposed on us by the possibility of someone else seeing what we do. That’s it: sheer visibility is the only motivating engine of the good we do and the bad we avoid doing.
I wonder how true this is. I imagine myself being invisible. The first thing that comes to mind is going naked. I like being naked. I’d be a nudist if it weren’t for the fact that I’d prefer not to see that many other people naked. Not everybody looks like Scarlet Johansson. But it does feel damn good on a warm summer day to walk around without any clothes on. So that’s the first thing I’d do. Next on my list would be shoplifting. But how would that work out? Wouldn’t people see items floating off the shelves at the grocery store? Most jewelers keep their items in a glass counter. How could I get into the counter if I were invisible? Wouldn’t someone hear me breathing or fussing with the backs of the display cases, brush up against me, step on a toe? Stand in open-mouthed awe as they watched rings and necklaces float out of their case before ringing for security? And what if, as some woman bent closer to get a look at a diamond solitaire, I coughed, or sneezed, and tried using her blouse to wipe my nose? Would people scream? Faint? I try to remember what went on in H.G. Well’s novel The Invisible Man. It’s been many years since I read it, or saw the movie, but I clearly remember it ended badly.
This is, of course, beside the point. Would I, given the opportunity, the complete wherewithal to do bad things with impunity, and with no one knowing my true identity, steal, kill, play out every libidinal and instinctual whim that came to mind? Squeeze boobs and run away laughing? Steal cars, grab money from people at the cash machines, through rocks through windows?
I don’t think it’s in me to do those things. Maybe I’m too old. I don’t know. Have I become tame in my waning years? I don’t do bad things not because I’m fearful of people seeing me and tarnishing my image in the community, or having scorn and abuse heaved on me, not to mention imprisonment, but because it’s not in me to do bad things. If I do something good, it’s not because some invisible film crew is watching my actions, or the mayor and city council are nearby with a trophy and a golden sash to present to me as soon as they see I’ve done something virtuous, helped a blind person across the street or returned a stray dog to its owner. If I do something bad it’s done inadvertently, by accident or negligence, not because I intended to do something bad, and certainly not because I felt I was hidden or invisible. And if I do something good it’s because it was in me to do something good. I generally act out of compassion. Nor do I believe I’ve cornered the market on virtuous behavior. I’ve had enough favors and kindnesses done to me over the years to believe that a substantial number of people in the human family are inclined (at least part of the time) to do good without reward or recognition, nor do bad when no one is looking. Or think no one is looking.
So I believe Glaucon is wrong. Except in one area: bankers. High finance. Corporations and the people that occupy their higher echelons. These people are for the most part invisible. These are the people that, to quote Nomi Prins, perpetrated “corporate malfeasance of epic proportions,” “massively destructive deceptions” calculated to fleece the public of their money with “fraud-induced bankruptcies.” And it’s still going on. Nothing has been done to regulate these institutions. Corporations are destroying the planet with hydraulic fracking, war profiteering, reckless and unrepentant oil spills, destroying biodiversity with genetically modified “killer seeds,” wreaking havoc among ecosystems and delicate habitats, monitoring employees with global positioning systems, using lobbying as a strategic weapon to distort competitive markets and create monopolies, transforming our universities into profit-driven, overcrowded job factories that saddle their graduates with crippling debts, and shifting heavy tax burdens to the public while they go scot-free. Here in Seattle none of the big corporations, Boeing, Microsoft or Amazon, pay their fair share of taxes. Boeing, in fact, enjoys a minus 3.3 percent tax bracket. We owe them money. Meanwhile, the infrastructure is going to shit and the giant drill the city purchased from Japan has already broken down and sits in waterfront mud waiting to be disassembled. The mayor, however, has made sure the city has bicycle lanes.
Why do these people manage to do so much harm with so much impunity? Has there ever been a moment in human history in which evil of this magnitude has been so rampant and so unpunished? I find it interesting that while corporate managers remain comfortable in their invisible realms of power they use high technology to spy on, intimidate, and dehumanize their employees. Or kill people from a safe distance with drones.
Why do people do evil? Why do people do good? Is it possible  to do good and evil simultaneously? Is it sometimes evil to do something good? Is it sometimes good to do something evil? And why are outlaws so damn sexy?
It’s the bank robbers who are sexy. The guys with guns. Out in the open. It’s their bravado that makes them sexy. It’s the sneaky bankers and CEOs and politicians that rob people sneakily, invisibly, that do the most harm and create the most toxic consequences. They’re not sexy; monstrous, yes. They’re hideous, blood-sucking hemorrhoids that work in the dark. They’re about as sexy as a genital wart. But rich, with an estate in the Hamptons with 35 toilets and a kitchen with every conceivable amenity.
Socrates answers Glaucon by a long, indirect route. He describes the city, cities in general, and how it is that all the people of a city require food and shelter and clothing, and that this is the reason for the city to exist, that each person has a task to fulfill, the best to his or her ability, and that because each person fulfills a task such as the growing of food or making and mending of clothes, the building of houses and ships, each person is able to benefit from these things, since no single person is capable of growing food, building a house, making and mending clothing, caring for the elderly and sick, etc., entirely on their own. Everything is made easier by sharing these tasks. So what does any of this have to do with good and evil?
Socrates ascribes war and violence to a city that has exceeded its needs and has developed a taste for luxuries. Then the people of the city must conquer and take what they desire from other people and other things. And to prevent one’s own city from being conquered and pillaged, it is necessary to build an army of tough, honor-bound soldiers. Soldiers who are brutal in war and good at killing but who treat their own families and citizenry with respect and gentleness. And the way to arrive at these virtues is through the telling the proper kind of stories. Stories that inspire honor and valor. Bad stories, which are stories that distort the truth, create bad people. And here he begins to rail against poets. For it is the poets who tell lies and distort the actions of the gods and give the impression that sometimes it is the god or gods who are guilty of the things people do and not the people themselves. That they are skilled at making untruths seem as truths, and blurring the line between what is true and what is not true.
I totally disagree with Socrates on these points, but he’s gone and no longer available for debate. He’s become as invisible as one can be, which is to die, and decompose, and go god knows where. He may be nowhere. He may be somewhere. Only Socrates knows where Socrates is, or is not. He has, however, prepared the way, and for that I am grateful.
I would agree wholeheartedly with Socrates if he were addressing the issue of video games that glorify brutality and killing, that exalt stealth and violence and that use their art to inspire this kind of madness in the young. Narratives that give the impression that life, to be experienced to its fullest and richest extent, must be had by barbaric and violent action. Or that war and killing are sexy, manly pursuits, the province of heroes, à la John Wayne’s tough guy posturing or the pageantry of the Roman gladiator, mercilessly plunging a sword into the body of the defeated while the crowd roars their admiration. This is what one finds in television and movies and video games, not necessarily in poetry. What one finds in poetry is a far different reality. It amazes me that the Socratic dialogues are composed with so much poetry, and yet distrusts the very quality that has brought them to life. The very quality that makes them compelling, and capable of truth at all. 
The model that Socrates proposes is based on a logic of mutuality. Each person contributes to the collective whole and benefits from the collective whole. To do harm to another member is to do harm to oneself because one is involved in a system of interrelation. Socrates says nothing about a hierarchy in which some members are compensated more royally than others, or that some members are more highly skilled than others and so deserve a higher compensation. His chief worry is that the army gets out of hand and begins abusing its citizens. Keep the poets away from the army, above all. I’ll go along with that.
Socrates doesn’t really answer Glaucon’s implication of perversity. The feeling that there is inside everyone a desire to indulge one’s pleasures regardless of who gets hurt. What is lacking is the power to do it; given the right set of circumstance, the best of us will give in to temptation and do wild and crazy things. There isn’t any logic there. Human behavior doesn’t fit a syllogistic pattern.
Socrates saves his discussion about theia mania, divine madness, for The Phaedrus.
Rousseau, in his book The Social Contract, saw people as inherently good. Hobbes, in his book Leviathan, saw people as inherently bad. Nietzsche saw good and evil as relativist concepts, the one comprehensible only in relation to the other, and each a matter of subjective, willed belief. Hannah Arendt referred to the banality of evil, someone of mediocre character who follows rules, no matter how good or bad, and does so without undue reflection. Evil has the potential to rise out of thoughtlessness, superficiality, indifference; a willingness to do whatever one can to remain comfortable no matter how one’s actions may affect someone else. There is a kind of invisibility in this milieu, one’s anonymity providing a cover for whatever one does. Invisibility, that is, coupled with a willed and deliberate ignorance.
I dressed as The Invisible Man one Halloween and did such a successful job wrapping my head in white bandages and wearing a trench coat and fedora and gloves and cleverly making my hand disappear at the end of my sleeve, I won an award at a local video store. And later, at a party, I was asked to remove the bandage. It was truly frightening people. If only I could’ve achieved true invisibility, or perhaps went around naked believing myself invisible, somewhat like the story of the emperor’s new clothes. How does one achieve invisibility in real life? It’s not that hard, as Ralph Ellison’s novel The Invisible Man points out. Social invisibility due to one’s race or impoverishment is a problem that continues to plague a huge population of homeless people.
The protagonist of H.G. Well’s novel is an asshole. A scientist blown with ambition and mad for power ruthlessly bullies and harms anyone in his way. It is a story of science gone off its rails, similar in its warnings to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Griffin (The Invisible Man) is killed by a mob who manage to get hold of his invisible body and pummel him to death. The image of the dying man is quite beautiful; as life goes out of his body, his body resumes visibility:
Suddenly an old woman, peering under the arm of the big navvy, screamed sharply. “Looky there,” she said, and thrust a wrinkled finger.
And looking where she pointed, everyone saw, faint and transparent as though it was made of glass, so that veins and arteries and bones and nerves could be distinguished, the outline of a hand, a hand limp and prone. It grew clouded and opaque even as they stared. 
 
 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What the Duwamish Taught Me


It’s disconcerting when one finds oneself at variance with the values of one’s culture. Money, for instance, has always been problematical. It’s not that I don’t value money, I just don’t automatically assume someone is superior to me because they have more money. I don’t assume they’re inferior, either. The possession of money is arbitrary, incidental. Accidental. People come into wealth for a huge variety of reasons, only a few of which have to do with talent or discipline.
Too bad people aren’t provided with maps when they grow into adulthood and leave home. Or grow into adulthood and are forced to stay at home because the economy is so out of control that nobody can get a job that pays enough money to lead an autonomous existence. The maps for being marooned at home are as equally important as the maps for entering the world at large. Let us assume, for the sake of convenience, that you call your home planet earth.
Earth is large, and round, though not as large as a lot of other worlds, and not entirely round, but more of an oval. Perhaps you’ve seen pictures of it: a big blue marble in space veined with thousands and thousands of rivers moving in a broad ellipse around a single star. It’s not as huge as Jupiter or Neptune, but big enough to support seven continents, five oceans, numerous mountain ranges and a great deal of furniture. Trust me, you need a map.
Space is largely rhetorical. When I worked at Plant No. 2 at Boeing and sat out on the loading dock overlooking the Duwamish I couldn’t help but notice that rivers move through space with a kind of elegance. Anything that flows has an intrinsic grace, an ineffable elegance. I liked sitting on the dock eating a lunch out of a paper sack because the river went about its work differently than I went about my work. I was terrible at what I did, which was to remove the excess metal, or flashing, from newly pressed ashtrays. Ashtrays for the Boeing passenger jets. This was at a time when people were still allowed to smoke on board airplanes. I was very slow and disinterested in the task. I wasn’t the only one to notice this. I was continually reminded by the supervisor, who was a middle-aged bald man with a fringe of dark brown hair on each side of his head. He had a way of glaring at my ineptitude that was eloquent in its contempt.
I envied the Duwamish because it was totally unsupervised. It flowed into Puget Sound liquid and grand, spreading its waters with prodigal facility and reflecting the sky with vivid, unrepentant serenity. I learned a great deal from that river. When I returned to my workbench in the dim light of the plant and the supervisor set his two glaring eyes on me I returned his look with the shine of the Duwamish and its great indifference to critique.
All rivers have what the French delightfully call a debouche. It comes from the verb ‘déboucher,’ which means to “come out into.” My debouche came in June when I quit my job at Boeing and headed south to California. A friend let me stay with him at his parent’s house in a Santa Clara suburb. I spend most of my time in the garage listening to Blonde on Blonde and the Velvet Underground. I felt hugely disinclined to do anything but listen to music. It wasn’t long before my welcome wore thin and I went to live on a bus with three other men. We each had a bunk and access to the bus owner’s bathroom and kitchen. That, too, came to an abrupt end one morning when we stood in brisk November air holding our bath towels and toothbrushes and reading a note informing us that we were no longer to welcome to use the house facilities or rent bunks on the bus. I don’t know to this day what prompted that note, but that was when my life assumed the full message of the Duwamish and places and events took on a decidedly transitory nature.
What else can anyone do but flow? Flowing runs contrary to the idea of ownership and capital. Flowing is an impulse opposite to that of acquisition. Avidity has no place in a life that drifts from place to place. I think of the Euphrates and Tigris in Iraq. All the conflict in that desolate land. And the rivers keep on going. Because that’s what rivers do. It’s what the Duwamish did. It’s what the Duwamish does. It’s what the Nile does, and the Mississippi and Danube and Amazon and Mekong and Yukon and Orinoco all do: flow. Like the language in Shakespeare. Like coffee poured from a pot into a mug. Like electricity through a wire.
Like words in a song.
Like the Higgs boson going from a state of energy into a state of mass.
Like a drug diffusing into the bloodstream.
Like the wind flows over the state of Kansas west to Colorado. And comes up against the Rockies and makes it rain and thunder. And the rain comes down and becomes the Colorado River. Carves a canyon out of Arizona, forms a large delta in Mexico nourishing elf owls, bats and the flowers of the saguaro before what is it left of it after some 70 percent or more of it has been siphoned off to irrigate 3.5 million acres of cropland trickles into the Gulf of California.
It also occurs to me that meanings flow into our lives, meanings that come to us from different tributaries, circumstances and language, harsh necessities and the fruits of desire.
Hegel introduced into philosophy an interesting term: sittlichkeit. Sittlichkeit means“ethical life,” the kind of ethical life that is built into one’s character, attitudes and feelings and so emerges as a second nature, as a matter of instinct. There are laws, but we agree to the laws because it is in our nature to agree to the laws. We are not compromised. There is wiggle room. Sittlichkeit is based upon individual autonomy and personal conviction and the way these impulses interact with a community. The law is not an absolute outside its human context and so differs from Kant’s notion of a morality that we ought to realize. There is no ought with Sittlichkeit, because there is no opposition between particular interest and the universal, between subject and object. Reality is a single field with two elements reacting against and absorbing one another.
The Duwamish suggested a similar paradigm in the way that it absorbed, clashed, flowed, reflected and debouched into the sound carrying all the corruptions of industry with it. But water is water and human blood erupts in different expressions.
Human consciousness craves analogy. If it rains, the rain must answer a question in our nerves. And if it does, something cracks in the logic of things and takes us around the bend to a new reality.