Monday, December 26, 2016

The Sway of Damaged Weather

Write a coffee so that it feels like wildlife. We sometimes have to distinguish between a feeling and a revelation. One is increasingly sweaty and one involves spurs and rubble. Garden the field of inscrutability before the weather of time petrifies the flowers of philosophy. I have tangled this thought in murmurs of hypnopompic snow. Why, I don’t know. Because the giant has not yet left the field. Perhaps that’s it. Perhaps not. All I know is a that crumpled ball of thought approximately the height of a domestic animal, a cow or donkey, can be an effective substitute for agriculture if it ambles back and forth in a sentence whose merits include an acreage of dark rich soil and a large red barn.
Age is not my friend. I have flexed some steam today. This proves nothing. This proves that I can move an eye through a tear and find another form of weather on the other side.
If I say the opposite of what I mean the result is a black car under a fir tree. But if I say that I can bend the truth the truth will not bend. The result is sad, extravagant, and non-specific. Not entirely a waste of time, no, but hollow and clumsily arabesque. You can use it for smoking fish but not for actual fishing. Actual fishing requires a lure, something slimmer and shinier than truth. Something you can only find within. I can’t say what it is. Your within is not my within, but without a within a within is without a without. A within that is without is not within, but if a within is without than what is within?
Sometimes what is required is not entirely what you may think you need.  This is a circumstance that calls for reflection. The relation between the thing that is named and the name itself can be confusing. Is it a provocation or a conjuration? Is it a proposal or a trajectory? What exactly does it mean to activate the organs of speech, to move the tongue and the lips, to cause a vibration in the larynx, to fill an utterance with breath and set it sailing into the world?
When we say something about something, we make it lie before us, we make it appear. For example: Wyoming. I say I see a lotus in a birdbath and a lotus in a birdbath appears. Saying a thing is seeing a thing. But this has little to do with Wyoming. Wyoming gets up and walks away. Goodbye, Wyoming, it was good to see you.
If I sew what I see the mind considers it seen.
Or sewn. Seen and sewn. Sewn and seen. The needle penetrates the fabric of thought and goes up and down, in and out, creating patterns that contradict the ontology of popcorn.
I probe the surrounding obscurity with a delicate antenna. It’s how I get around, you know? I feel my way, as they say. Anyone who has entered a dark room without knowing where the light switch is knows what it is to feel a wall with one’s hand until the shape of a light switch is discovered beneath one’s fingers. The switch is switched, the light comes on.
Have you ever tried that with a human being, put a few words out there in the course of a conversation to see what they might stir up, to see if a light goes on? The light comes in and we see a landscape of canyons and buttes and Joshua tree desolation.
It’s not easy to elude a wilderness. As soon as we enter a language we enter a wilderness. Evergreens sway in lovely deviation. A spectral agitation anticipates the shape of the propeller. All sweet things that come from the air merit the dance of paregoric in the blood and around the bone. This is a wisdom that comes from the pursuit of beauty. This is a heat heard softly in the murmur of coal.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Twisted Colossus

Today, I would like to build a sentence of breath and sand. I will begin with a principle and end with an oath. If the age demanded a spoon I would give it a rag. But it's full of static and right wing radio stations. The color pink spouts mud from her veins. It’s how the severity of the color black is able to assume an aesthetic that speaks more clearly to our crusade for the towering subtleties of the highway. The sky leans over the horizon and brings out the textures of a more empirical reality than the one we were promised. There are balms for our blisters, theologies for our lotus. The cemetery confirms our anarchy. We draw analogies from the elasticity of pronouns. From one moment to another we do not know if the chisel is a more appropriate tool than the savagery of expectation.
When the jokes turned sour I decided to leave the group and build another sentence. This time I would use sprockets and paint. It was with great anxiety that I approached the canvas of life and began the lactation of coral turnstiles. I pulled some opium from an avenue of dead weather and offered it to the ghosts of hypothesis. They were most helpful. Together we were able to lift the sentence into the air and give it a push. It sailed into meaning where it spread its sails and creaked aloud when the conjunctions scraped against one another in that great mysterious ocean of space and time. 
The buckets are carried by Buddhists. The glue is heavy. Fortunately, most of the gas stations are open. My invocations rush aggressively into the night. The stars pour eternity on the world. The world continues to turn. Turning is eternal. It makes sense.
A patch of cloud walks past the moon. A shiver of bells enlivens a Christmas display. We hear an explosion, then, minutes later, sirens. Shards of glass reflect a ceiling of frescoed cherubs and wildflowers. A stethoscope is pressed against a warm chest.
Isn’t that what we’ve wanted all along, to perceive the reasons for things and events, to move them without the risk of the real and effortlessly understand them?  
Negation, deferred inasmuch as it is born from the abyss, causes the subject to bounce.
Christmas is an entirely different situation, requiring presents and generosity, a sense of community, a little hypocrisy, fakery, diplomacy, netsuke and spices from the netherworld.
Who wouldn’t want to travel in a rocket ship to Mars?
Palm Springs, maybe.
We can land by the side of a pool. The ghost of Bob Hope will greet us at the gate. He will bring us the balm of humor, which resides in the heart, alongside regret, which is cousin to the counselors of pain.
Maybe Bob Hope is a bad example. Maybe pain is a bad example.
Examples of what? They are examples of pain, existence, angst, the open enrollment of everything perceptible, the registration of the universe on our nerves, planets, stars, mezzanines and treadles of spinning potter’s clay. Open enrollment is a euphemism, a misapplied optimism that would also include its opposite, the flip side of the coin, a full spectrum of pain and pleasure and everything in between. There are torques and flywheels, hoists and trajectories. A closer description might be the Twisted Colossus of Six Flags Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita, California, which is a Möbius Loop roller coaster with a zero-g roll and a top gun stall.
The Palace of Pain beggars description. You must have pain, or a memory of pain in order to take its measure. There’s no morality to pain, though one may be provided, given sufficient time for thought and meditation. This is how pain fuels creativity, semantic cartography, and playing the harmonica. Sometimes there are symbols and ikons to help with the process. For example, a legato in a Beethoven violin concerto, or the hot dog rotator at 7-11.
There’s a shrine in the corner of the library. This is where sensations refine themselves into hieroglyphs of voluptuous energy. I could use this as an example, but it’s already in use. We should step away quietly and stand on the porch and listen to the rain.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Miracle in Words

In 2001, in that small interim in time between the death of my father in late August and the collapse of the World Trade Towers on September 11th, my wife Roberta and I enjoyed a long conversation with Philip Lamantia at his apartment in San Francisco’s North Beach area. We talked a lot about Edgar Allan Poe. Philip and I were both fascinated by the dual phenomena of hypnopompic and hypnogogic consciousness, the twilight state of consciousness that occurs just before falling asleep and just as one is coming awake. Of the two, I’ve always had a strong preference for the later. For it is upon that emergence from unconsciousness that my mind is still easy and fluid and not yet caged in logic. Wonderful lines of poetry float through my mind, often strung together in a funny, pixilated syntax, marvelous and strange. I can never remember these wonderful lines, but am always trying to duplicate them, resorting to poetry to coax them into being. Not just any poetry, but the poetry of the weird and aberrant, the visionary and phantasmagoric, the kind of poetry Philip wrote, a work at once exotic and otherworldly and yet fiercely engaged with the world. Not flighty, but tough and marvelous.
The Poe essay Philip was eager to share with us is titled “Marginalia,” which first appeared in Graham’s Magazine, March, 1846. There are two paragraphs in particular that I would like to share with you:  

How very commonly we hear it remarked, that such and such thoughts are beyond the compass of words! I do not believe that any thought, properly so called, is out of the reach of language. I fancy, rather, that where difficulty in expression is experienced, there is, in the intellect which experiences it, a want either of deliberateness or of method. For my own part, I have never had a thought which I could not set down in words, with even more distinctness than that with which I conceived it:  as I have before observed, the thought is logicalized by the effort at (written) expression.  

There is, however, a class of fancies, of exquisite delicacy, which are not thoughts, and to which, as yet, I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt language. I use the word fancies at random, and merely because I must use some word; but the idea commonly attached to the term is not even remotely applicable to the shadows of shadows in question. They seem to me rather psychal than intellectual. They arise in the soul (alas, how rarely!) only at its epochs of most intense tranquillity — when the bodily and mental health are in perfection — and at those mere points of time where the confines of the waking world blend with those of the world of dreams. I am aware of these “fancies” only when I am upon the very brink of sleep, with the consciousness that I am so. I have satisfied myself that this condition exists but for an inappreciable point of time — yet it is crowded with these “shadows of shadows;” and for absolute thought there is demanded time’s endurance.  

This link to Edgar Allan Poe is significant for a variety of reasons, but I would put at the forefront the deep connection to France Poe enjoyed due to the zeal and translations of Charles Baudelaire. It is this self-same taste for the marvelous and strange, for perversity and eccentricities of all shape and color, that a few decades later would help feed the incandescent marvels and phantasmagoria that is French surrealism. And of all American poets, Philip Lamantia is certainly its most manifest example.
Lamantia’s connection with French surrealism began in the early 1940s at a Dali retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Art when Philip was in his early teens. Lamantia describes his odyssey into surrealism in an interview with David Meltzer in San Francisco Beat (2001), in which he shares the following details:  

I was turned on to Surrealism through a great Dali retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Art (now SFMOMA), followed by an equally marvelous exhibition of Miró. Within weeks I had read everything available on Surrealism that I could get from the public library. There wasn't much: David Gascoyne, the premier British Surrealist poet-whose Short Survey of Surrealism was superb-Julien Levy's Surrealism, Georges Lamaître's From Cubism to Surrealism in French Literature(he was teaching at Stanford), and finally, the discovery of the luxurious New York Surrealist review, VVV-two issues edited by Breton and friends-which I found in the tiny but ample no-loan library at the museum. In almost no time I had a dozen poems ready for publication and sent some to View: A Magazine of the Arts, which was edited, in New York, by the only important American poet who was plausibly Surrealist, Charles Henri Ford. In Spring 1943 my poems were featured on one of View's large-format pages. On the cover was a photograph by Man Ray . . . It was just after this that I discovered VVV's whereabouts and sent other poems there to André Breton. He wrote, accepting three poems and requesting a letter from me "clarifying" my relation to Surrealism. Acceptance by the man I fervently believed the most important poet and mind of the century led to my decision to quit school and take off for New York. I arrived in April 1944 in Manhattan . . . (135)  

Poetry for Philip was far more than artistry. It was alchemical. It was spiritual. It provided what André Breton termed “communicating vessels,” a means to transmute the leaden, soul-suffocating repressions and routines of everyday life into the thrill of the marvelous, the soul-fulfilling wine of the sublime.
In science, communicating vessels refers to a set of vessels of varying shape and size in which a homogeneous fluid will balance out to the same level. In André Breton’s application, communicating vessels refers to the correspondence between our walking life and the realm of dreams. Breton’s view was heavily influenced by Freud. He believed that the desires that are unable to be acted upon or fulfilled during our waking life may be enacted and satisfied in our dreams. I rarely remember my dreams, nor do I take much interest in them, but I very much like the general metaphor of two polarities connected by a transporting medium. According to this view, our waking life, which I take to be associated with humdrum necessity and the tedium of labor (albeit I find this to be a very narrow outlook), is visited by the shadows and chimeras of our unconscious and excite our minds to boundless wandering, what Breton called the “undirected play of thought.” It’s the side of our natures that keep us from becoming automatons, zombies going through all the motions of life without actually living. It’s the combination of dream and reality that results in a heightened awareness which Breton called “surreality.”
Philip remarks later in his interview with David Meltzer that “Poetry is the mean term between the physical basis for imagery and the metaphysical realm of being. This is what connects the affective to the cerebral, the heart to the sensual, and the mental vehicles of reception to the visible and invisible realms of being.”
What drew the three of us so powerfully to the eloquence of Poe’s essay in Philip’s North Beach apartment that summer afternoon in 2001 was Poe’s description of an intermediary state between the poles of conscious and unconscious life, a state in which poetry would emerge with the naturalness of breathing. Problems arise, however, when we attempt to employ a medium that is based almost entirely on rules, on a mutually recognized system that  -  while not always completely logical -  is not unlike the cogs and gears of a machine. Paint is gooey and smears; dance is physical, the play of our bodies in gravity and space; music is unbound by reference to the real world; theatre is masks and illusion; sculpture is rock and clay in three dimensional form, but still and lifeless. Poetry is a panther pacing back and forth in a cage.
“Isn’t this what all poets have aspired to,” Philip remarked in his interview with David Meltzer, “seemingly failing in the attempt but finally achieving a miracle in words.”
Indeed. Listen to it. Immerse your ears in it. Immerse your eyes in it. Bathe your neurons in it. Feel your blood warm with its pulse. Winter birches sway in invisible agitations of air. Words quicken into colloidal living substance. Ink sags with the imagery of passage. Vermilion camaraderies unfold fists of sandstone abstraction. The mind secures a place in heaven. And down it rains in sparkling subtleties of primal warmth.  
Remember geometry class? Remember carrying a sharp metal object called a compass? If not, there’s a marvelous painting of one by William Blake called “The Ancient of Days setting a Compass to the Earth,” rendered in 1794. God is hunched over, long blonde hair and beard blowing to the side, leaning out of the sun holding a compass with a huge, muscular arm. The arm, which parallels his massive, powerful leg, guides the compass with ferocious firmness and precision. The meaning of the painting is blunt: science controls. Technology holds existence in balance. Watch out that it doesn’t get too disproportionately ascendant.
The twilight states between sleeping and waking, or descending into sleep from a state of wakefulness, will have a peculiar effect on the instruments of geometry and science. Imagine Dali’s melting watches, or the jubilant chaos that is Max Ernst’s “L’Ange du Foyer,” (“The Angel of the Home”) and you’ll have an approximation of the enlightening distortions and odd lucidities of unbridled reverie.
Poe was confident that language could be reconfigured and formulated to accommodate these chimeras, that its inherent malleability and charms were sufficient to induce a trance-like frame of mind in which marvels and oddities could be brought to life, envisioned, embodied, ushered onto a sheet of paper. “Now, so entire is my faith in the power of words,” he proclaims, “that, at times, I have believed it possible to embody even the evanescence of fancies such as I have attempted to describe.”
I agree. But first it’s necessary to come to terms with the mechanisms that make language work.
Language is bound by rules. Break the rules, and you cease to make sense. Sense, that is, in the conventional sense. It’s in the nature of the mind to find meaning whenever and wherever it can. A lack of conventionality can excite a remarkable inventiveness, provided that one’s sensibilities are in any way receptive to new experience.
When grammar is torqued and twisted, the words assume a character that is both strange and palpable. Palpable because they’ve ceased being the conveyors of information and occupying a utilitarian function that is virtually invisible and transparent. They’ve become something else: they’ve become objects, startling and strange. What the Russians call ostrenenie: defamiliarization, the artistic technique of presenting common, everyday things in a way that makes them unfamiliar or strange, thereby enhancing the perception of the familiar.
How cool is that?
Earlier in his essay, Poe remarked quite optimistically that “I do not believe that any thought, properly so called, is out of the reach of language.”
For those of us who might be a little wary to resort to drugs or enter a hypnotic state each time we felt the urge to write, this is good news.
That said, I don’t mean to dismiss drugs altogether. I have memories. I’ve heard stories. I’ve read books. Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, Charles Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises, Michael McClure’s Meat Science Essays, Henri Michaux’s The Major Ordeals of the Mind, and Some Minor Ones.” Drugs are, in their own way, illuminating. When drugs meet language, the result can be as energizing as the Beatles or Little Richard playing rock ‘n roll in Hamburg’s red light district circa 1962. Wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom! There’s nothing like a Benzedrine buzz to thwack thwack thwack clickety click click click begin slapping words down in a state of exhilarated immediacy so that life and writing fuse into a bubbling mass of bop spontaneity. Normal syntax, the glue of the ordinary, the mortar of stiff collared Atlantic Monthly rhetoric, the stuff that makes sense, the syntax of ordinary mass and transparent point-making prose, starts doing back-flips and handstands and explodes into protoplasmic bliss. This is language with a pulse.
But that’s Benzedrine. What Poe is talking about bears a much stronger resemblance to opium. I’ve never had opium, just the occasional prescription for codeine or Vicodin, so I can’t speak with any real authority on how these medications influence writing. I know that these pharmaceuticals make me a lot more relaxed and patient and forgiving toward people and the thousand accidents and fucked-upedness of life as it is being lived and shins bumped against the coffee table and parking tickets discovered under the windshield wiper and rude bookstore employees and assholes walking unleashed dogs make you feel small and anxious. Those negative thoughts and feelings might still be there but you’re nicely distanced from them, looking down from a hot air balloon, making observations of cool indifference from an ivory throne of the mind. The mind as it is buoyed by codeine. The mind as it is softly lifted into the heavens by Sister Morphine.
And then there’s booze; booze worked pretty well for Charles Bukowski. Kerouac combined booze with benzies and the result was On the Road. Rollicking, vivid, incandescent prose. The kind of writing that makes you fall in love with words and go crazy with a wild lust to experience the world.
Booze never really worked for me. A couple of beers, a shot of whiskey and a mug of Guinness would have me feeling pretty good for maybe an hour, at most, but I rarely, if ever, felt the inclination to write, and it was never very long before I was shitfaced drunk and slurring my words much less writing anything I would want to claim as my own. The opioids don’t compromise the intellect as devastatingly as alcohol. Not for me, anyway. Reaction to drugs of any kind tends to vary wildly. Me, I’m an opiate guy. Never liked cocaine much. Loved amphetamines, but coming down was excruciating, worse than a hangover from an alcoholic binge.
As for the more exotic drugs, psychedelics and such, I would enter that realm with extreme caution. It has been many decades since I entered the portals of space and time through those doors, but I can state unequivocally that they’re not things to trifle with. I haven’t been tempted to try again. My relationship with reality isn’t what it used to be. Reality itself isn’t what it used to be.
This is what makes Poe’s confidence in language so endearing to those of us who crave a heightened awareness or more buoyant mood. Just the immersion in words alone is a journey of disembodied poetics, a wild ride through that vertiginous zone we call infinite possibility. I feel like one of those Wild West medicine show guys when I start preaching like this, but you really don’t need codeine or opium or even pot to write the kind of language that stirs and rustles in Lethean enchantment. You just need to figure out a way to do it. Because if you’re in an ordinary state of mind that in any way resembles my ordinary state of mind, you’re fucked. Most of the time I’m in a shitty mood. Angst, mortality, climate change, mass extinction, benign prostatic hyperplasia, envies, jealousies, betrayals, rejections, racism, bigotry, anti-intellectualism, a teetering economy and a flatulent fascistic oligarchy are as common to my daily existence as Wisconsin is to cheese or sewage from a poorly maintained septic tank. I call on the ghosts of Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson to help me out with this.
I don’t know how they did what they did but I’m pretty sure Emily Dickinson didn’t go out back and smoke a doobie before returning to the kitchen or linen closet to finish her domestic chores. And yet she wrote marvelously, turned language into a distillery for metaphysical insights and a general euphoric buzz.
So then, what is it? What technique do you employ to get the words out there blinking like Christmas tree lights?
I use a number of tricks, including Burrough’s cut-up technique, Tristan Tzara’s cutting out words and putting them in a bag and taking them out one by one, Joycean stream of consciousness, Kerouac’s bop spontaneity, or just sitting down and writing, just doing it, just putting pen to paper, fingers on a keyboard, and begin, word after word, until a sequence forms, any sequence, it doesn’t have to make sense, in fact it’s just the opposite, I don’t especially want it to make sense, I want it to make mayhem, I want chaos, I want a storm, I want to stand high on a cliff like Prospero and make the seas toss. Do that, and consciousness will follow. What consciousness I cannot say, but consciousness, awareness, an altered perception, call it what you want.  



Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Cave

I’m going to take a leap and say that the earliest experience of art was incantatory, an invocation, a calling down, or calling up, of spirits, of a higher power, sky gods, earth gods, ocean gods. It was ritual and prayer. Those guys going into the caves in France and Spain during the Pleistocene, who might have been women, went there for a reason. It was hidden. It was separate from mundane reality. It was removed from the world of hunger and necessity, the world of doing, the world of eating and fire. It was a place of spirits, shadows dancing on calcareous rock, pigments derived from iron oxide and red and yellow ochre, animal fat and bone. Shapes swirled into being from horsehair were creatures rendered in a spirit of imitation but whose animations were the living embassies of the human imagination.
Meaning we are caught between two worlds. The world of the spirit and imagination and the world of hunting and brute survival. The relationship between those two domains have always been a little contentious. Daydreaming doesn’t lead to meat. Ceremony feeds the spirit but not the gut. It takes artistry to make a spear but it’s a different kind of artistry than the artistry that brings animals into grace and being on the undulant irregularities of subterranean rock.
My world has refrigerators in it, computers and clocks, but the cave is still very much with me. When I sit down to write I enter a cave. I enter a realm of darkness in which the light is tentative but the shadows it creates have an eerie autonomy. Poetry comes from the cave, and so do elves and philosopher kings, dragons and ghosts.
It’s Thanksgiving, and raining. I go to pick up Roberta who has just left work and is carrying a bag of groceries. I get in the car. The steering wheel is cold. I start the engine. Adam Levine of Maroon 5 sings “I Shall Be Released” from the Amnesty International Chimes of Freedom tribute album to Bob Dylan. My cave is still in me but has assumed a different form. It’s an amalgam of seeking and penetration, the kind of wandering one does in one’s mind during a time of trauma, in this case the recent election, the ascendancy of Père Ubu to the White House. I try to remind myself that fascism doesn’t have to triumph, there are ways to resist it, and resistance will require a cave. Bears and horses on the stone walls of an inner realm.
Once, on a trip to Oregon with my parents when I was about 14 years old, we joined a tour group and descended by elevator to the bottom of a cave. When we reached the bottom, a guide from the park department lectured us on the features of the cave, its depth, its length, its formation. He shut the lights off to let us experience the full darkness of the cave. It was the first time I saw darkness. It was so emphatically, absolutely black it was penetrating. There is the kind of dark in which we stumble and feel our way around because objects are obscured. This was not that type of dark. This dark seemed alive. It was a thing. It had being. A lit match would’ve torn into its flesh.
One’s sense of self feels peculiar in such darkness. It is purely a sensation. A feeling of self-ness that is based on nothing.
Art that attempts to imitate things is automatically dull. How can it not be? Art that attempts to mimic the processes of nature is a little more interesting. Art that drags itself across the floor like a peanut is goodnatured and lepidopterous. Art made of hot water and sugar blushes with crystal violet. Art produced in caves crushes the fossils of light-headed purport. Art that repairs the mind and heart will find violent houses minted in string smelling of solitary soot. Art that purges and arouses dangerous emotions is fallible and laughing.
Why are artists always stuck with defending art?
There are societies that promote imagination and societies that kill imagination. The societies, such as that of the United States, kill the imagination so that the people will submit to labor at the cheapest possible price.
When you enter a gallery as I have on occasion and see work selling for thousands of dollars sometimes even millions you naturally think holy shit I can do that and then I don’t have to wash dishes or sweep floors or make drinks or dig ditches or give the nightly news anymore. You can slip out of your chains and find a fullness of being immediately available. Right there, under your skin, is a furnace of capillaries and veins, hot red blood finding its way to bonanzas of expanded sensation.
Art became social when it came above ground. When it became gowns and candelabras, investments and spoons. When Norman Rockwell produced red-haired freckle-faced kids getting haircuts by benign elderly men with white hair and wisdom in their back pocket. When Andrew Wyeth painted window curtains and braids and made the world look familiar and safe and put his arm around George W. Bush.
When art becomes social it loses its autonomy. It loses its essential spirit. It serves commerce. It serves the deadening of the imagination. It serves the fashion industry. It serves the rich.
Kitsch, observed Herman Broch, is a turning away from the divine cosmic creation of values. It is resigned to the clever and cute. Jeff Koon’s monster balloon dog mocks the sublime. The sublime is dangerous because it is out of human control. Art stands in opposition to social domination. We descend into the cave in search of those beings and entities that fuel artistic impulse with blue fire, the animal desire to conquer the horizontal world, the speed and grace of the antelope, the strength of the bear, the avatars of spirit. Art keeps itself alive through its resistance to social force. It feeds on the mineral colors of flame-induced creatures. On the contour of rock. On the thick palpable darkness that sleeps in the bone and awakens in the eyes.
Art repels empirical reality. It delights in fluctuations so rapid that they have the invisible blur of the hummingbirds’ wings, the weird aerodynamics of the bumblebee, whose wings are transparent but veined, revealing networks of fragile interrelation, as do the subsonic noises of bats bounced off objects to determine their character and distance. The darkness of a cave is a living body of dark energy, the subterranean medium of labyrinth and hall and moonmilk that envelops our intimacy with the irrationality of the depths, the primal cradle of creativity.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Something Akin to the Soul

All works of art are founded on a certain distance from the lived reality which is represented.
Why? Why is this the case?
Reality is often a drag. Jobs, raising kids, driving in heavy traffic, road rage, corruption and greed in politics, Columbus Day, arthritis, bursitis, appendicitis, conjunctivitis, are all a drag. But they’re not reality. They’re only fractions of reality. Facets, not faucets. Aspects, not aspic.
A distance is needed from reality in its representation by artistic means for that very reason: we don’t know what reality really is. It is largely a matter of perception, largely a matter of opinion, largely a matter of what a group of people agree upon. I mean, if I punch the wall as hard as I can with my fist, it will hurt like hell and I might damage the wall. That’s reality, sure. The pain is real, the wall is real, my fist is real. It is my intention for doing that goes a little awry. Why, you might ask yourself, did that guy just punch the wall? This makes it a form of performance, and without a clear intent, it makes it a perfect form of art. It was done gratuitously to make a point, a point I’m not even sure about, but I do believe we’re on a way to a point, you and me, writer and reader, both participating in the ultimate of all art forms, which is making a paragraph, making it semantic and full of strata, random samples, cubic mass, quantum physics, quarks and bosons, cymbals and symbols, cysts and sisters, grates and graters, garters and gardens, kimonos and pianos, rutabaga, star grass, titlarks, viaducts, viaticum, Via Dolorosa.
We are, it would seem, unavoidably entangled in that which we study. Hard to say just one word without adding a bunch more to support and girder the one stuffed with sound and pushed into space.
Nothing like language and a sequence of words to remind you how interrelated everything is, and diffused with life and lime and light.
I hear a light susurrus of late November wind, the grind and groan of a piece of heavy equipment, the crash of detritus into the maw of a garbage truck. It’s rather dark, but I do see an emergent glow, the day shifting from overcast to scattered clouds, the kind that shred like rags into vapory ephemera and hang in the sky with listless beauty, or get moved by a light wind, and the light of heaven drops down to earth, commingling and interweaving with its sounds. Light shines from the rim of the aluminum foil covering an apple pie and someone tinkers with machinery across the street. Rocks glow. Leaves glow. The cat sleeps on her pillow below a Tiffany lamp.  
Light in itself is something akin to the soul, wrote Johannes Kepler.
Kepler had a penchant for Platonic ecstasy, but it was mingled with a robust skepticism. He wondered why snowflakes fell in the form of six-cornered stars, tufted like feathers, why there were only six planets instead of hundreds, and why these planets all moved in elliptical orbits rather than circles. Some people are like that. They question everything. Some animals are like that, too. Have you ever seen a cow lift her head when a stranger enters her field? I don’t even see tourists do that when I go running down the sidewalk at Kerry Park.
The world isn’t black and white. Very few things make sense.
Our cat is extremely fussy about eating. She loves to eat, but won’t eat unless, before refreshing her bowl, which is some form of metal like chrome, very shiny and flat, I wash it. Then I put it on the breadboard to dollop out some of her favorite food, tuna and pumpkin. The dish gleams in the kitchen light, distorting reflections of the ceiling and light fixtures above.
Where am I going with this?
I feel a need to get something out there, something about art and representation, something about seeing and silence and the occasional need to break that silence and say something about one’s experience in this life.
This afternoon, while out running, I saw a rosebush with three light yellow roses on it, but no leaves. This is winter. It’s cold. Two of the roses were small, but one was large, and healthy. It looked quite robust. How is this possible? Is there any sap still running through those skinny little limbs?
I don’t know. But the point is this: this is a representation. And as such, it’s at a definite remove both in space and time from the roses I saw. Which is better? The representation, or the actuality? I’m going to go with the actuality. Actuality is always better than representation. Try as hard as I can with whatever words I can find to get that actuality across, I will fail.
And I’m trying (to paraphrase Samuel Beckett) to fail as hard as I can.