Thursday, December 05, 2013

The final project for my Fall 2013 "Power of Poetry" class was to write a poem informed by a chosen sense of the "everyday". I thought the following was particularly successful (though of course tweakable)—breathtaking:

[No Title: by J.E.]

I travelled standing still on the front steps of my mother’s home.
She was a child, circling around her eleven brothers and sisters, 
her mother, Sadie, called her children inside to eat dinner.  The scrambled
footsteps of uncles and aunts scooted around me, some even
passed through.
It was 1968 I was standing on my mother’s doorstep.

I stared at the muddy dirt road, leading up to the only church within miles.
White and beautiful. I saw Sadie slowly walking up the steps, perhaps
to the pearly gates, singing “Im goin’ up yonder to be with my love.”
Up she went, she never came back down. I see Sadie’s husband behind,
with his scowl, not knowing why he’s going up.

I saw Frances, the aunt full of wisdom, she was the eldest, skipping along the road with her boyfriend. Oh Uncle David how I’ll miss you. I think they saw me, while they were sneaking out at dark. Frances touched every step on her way out, I counted to make sure.
I remained still in my spot on the third step. It was 1960.

 I saw the graveyard, full of life sitting right next to the church. Great uncles and aunts were digging, I thought they were trying to find something. I was hot, Sadie brought me something to drink. She was much younger. I saw her carrying clothes she had pressed, to the neighborhood full of whites, miles away. I waited until she came back, she changed and went to work in the tobacco fields, across from the steps. The third step could see it all, I couldn’t move if I tried.
 Lula, called her children in for dinner, Sadie’s little feet rushed up the stairs, that was the last I saw of Sadie.
It was 1920.

I saw a Sunday morning. The most expensive clothing anyone could find was pressed to their skin. I had on an all black suit, and a black tie. I had on the most expensive thing there. Some people looked at me and whispered, they thought I was at a funeral. They stared at me as they walked down the dirt road, some had shoes, a lot did not. My shoes were polished nailed to the steps of my mother’s house. I could hear the singing from the church from the third step. I heard the preacher’s shout, and I heard the people’s pain. All of this I heard from the third step. How much more I could have heard if only I was one step closer.

I saw the church doors open. The congregation steadily marched to the steps and entered the door. I tried to open it for them, I almost fell, they helped me stand, so that I wouldn’t have to leave the third step. Lula ran to the kitchen, along with other women from the church. I didn’t recognize them, they seemed to know me. They cooked and baked for the whole congregation, while they sat on the dirt road. Some of the kids ran in and out of the cotton and tobacco fields, they were straight across from my third step. They play where they work. They were just kids. So am I, standing on the third step.
Lula is much younger now. It is 1895.

Frederick Douglas died. It rained today, I stood there soaking wet, someone came out of the house with more water on her face than mine. She had to start her 10 hour shift in the field today, at least today she had time to sleep. W.E.B. Dubois came to speak, there was a crowd of people on the steps that looked like me. But he was looking at me. I know because no one else was on the third step. He went to Harvard. Some of the people in the crowd got through middle school. I went to college. No one else was on the third step of my mother’s house.

I saw Harriet Tubman and Truth’s footsteps following behind. I could still trace out their footprints on the road from where I stand, in fact I’m looking at them now. I see this from the third step. I see more of the people that look like me in the field, but I can’t join. How could I? I’m on the third step of my mother’s house.
It is 1840.

I travelled standing still on the front steps of my mother’s home.
I took my last step onto the porch, and slowly turned,
wondering how I was able to take my first two.
I passed by the kitchen, and went to my room.
It was a long day on the steps of my mother’s house.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Prologomenon on the notion of a self having multiple sheaths:

If you read across a range of religion esoteric and psychological sources, you will find a range of explications that set out self in relation to a series of topoi often associated with particular mind/body constellations. For instance, quotidian self (sense perception, mundane mind), astral self (body/mind that exists on the “astral” or etheric plane), cosmic self or self as God, and so on. The difference between topoi is often conceived of in energetic or elemental terms—physical body, emotional body, mental body, for instance—and yogic traditions, for instance, attempt to map these levels in relation to a subtle body that is tied to physical material body at certain points or knots that function like rheostats to both “step down” and re-synthesize/sublime some primary energy that occurs as body/self.

This type of thinking is a genre of thought—it is a way of thinking of self found in a wide range of contexts and using a wide set of, generally culturally derived, terms for the topoi. Indeed, in some cultures introducing specialized language for the topoi, or adding a new topoi between a prior pair is part of the ongoing process of trying to think of self in these terms.

For me, generic patterns are a sign of a difference that needs to be said. Hence, I take the broad distribution of this genre not as an indication of an infectious thought or idea, but rather as a sign that an extant difference, however poorly understood or inadequately expressed by speaking in terms of soul or astral or angel, that is given (or in which we are thrown) in our experience. My thought here is parallel to a move I make with respect to thinking about the classical assertion that phenomena are composed of four (or five) basic elements (generally earth, air, fire, and water). With respect to the latter, while we currently have a richer account of the dynamics by which phenomena are composed, the basic intuition expressed in terms of the elements is not bad—things can be differentiated by way of being solid, liquid, gaseous, and, there appears to be a catalytic means by which changes of state occur. That is, speaking in terms of basic elements is not ignorant or superstitious, it is simply rudimentary—and not all that bad a start.

Over the past five years, I have been teaching a class on interdisciplinary approaches to the human sciences. A focus of one part of the class has been to identify strengths and weaknesses of the different disciplines with respect to human phenomena. The approach guiding my thought has been to put aside the question of which discipline best accounts for human phenomena and instead, build up a notion of the human using the disciplines as a series of necessary lens by which specific topoi related to the human can be observed. That is, the variety of the disciplines actually reflects the fact that human phenomena can be meaningfully observed from a variety of lens (psychological, social, and so on).

The great tendency, alas, has been to assume a la Neo-Platonic thought that the real activity is led at one or another of the levels—that is, that relations between topoi (individual, social, and so on) are homologous, that one level corresponds to another, and so on. [In a curious way, literary theory gives us a catalog of possible ways to think of the correspondences between topoi as analogy, allegorical, and so on. But, even here, the tendency has been to think of the relation as one that heals the difference, a means of correlating the topoi.] Hence biological reductionism or flattening, or Platonic projections, or Marxist materialism, etc. The real work goes on here and, if we want to change things, if we want to realize self, we do so from that vantage.

Merleau-Ponty’s epistemology lends an important clue to thinking about difference by way of another tack, one that more rigorously sustains the relations between the topoi in terms of difference—a thing we have to take seriously given Derrida’s critique of language and being. Merleau-Ponty presciently observed that the different senses—sight, hearing, smell, etc—composed worlds that were not structurally analogous to each other. By this I understand him to say that the object relation between self and sensed object is structurally different according to the sense organ involved, and that, however much we privilege sight when we think about sense-relations, in fact, the range of senses present us with a set of “slices” from which we compose a sensed life-world. Merleau-Ponty asserts that the differences between these slices persist as facts in our experience, as gaps or chiasmic relations that are never overcome or resolved in any synthetic process, precisely because, in the end, the differences matter and are not reducible.

So, however much we usefully compose a single sense world, as creatures structured by way of meaningful, “factual” object relations, we are also aware of and depend on the differences between the senses. That is, those differences are recognized as tacit facts even where we deny such differences for ideological purposes or to say some hope, and so on.

Back to the several selves then—social, individual, astral, etc. My thought is that, in some way not yet said well, we actually exist in several terms, and that these terms are not, strictly speaking, reducible to one or the other. The easiest to get at is, for instance, the difference between self as individual and self as social creature. It seems to me that thinking in the way I’ve outlined here means that we should understand ourselves to exist both as individuals with specific affect located by having a particular physical body/mind complex with a particular material history (the “I” that was born in Oak Ridge TN in 1958, moved to Cleveland in 1960 etc, the you with your specific track of perception, thought, and material place) and as part of a social process (flock movement) whose processes are not the individual’s and are, strictly speaking, exogenous to any individual will. That is, the structure of the social self is meaningfully alien to the individual—different from and not reducible to the self.

[I have taken this last as the reason for the endless fascination with “machine” consciousness, with androids and cyborgs, and notions of the mechanical. All of these attempt to imagine the social self taken as radical other in personal terms; that is, these are tropes by which a relation to the social can be imagined. My thought is that the difference between individual and social self is abyssal, chiasmic, and that, however much we might want to have our individual will/purpose be reflected by or dictate the social, however much we might want to establish a relation between individual and social by speaking in terms of hybridity, in fact, the relation between individual and social self is as different as that between seeing and hearing and is necessary.]


Wesley Kort’s work on self in relation to autobiography identifies three topoi—individual, social, and mythic—and argues that literature can largely be sorted by differentiating between texts concerned with the conflict between individual and social, individual and mythic, social and mythic, and so on. That is, conflict in narrative is in relation to an extant difference that the story aims to elucidate and/or heal. I suspect we could tinker with Kort’s analysis of self in terms of three topoi but I am actually more interested in the thought that the terms of any one narrative conflict are never comprehensive; in this sense, the problem faced in being by a person is never comprehensively addressed by any given story and, instead, leaks out.

Hegelian dialectics may be no better a move because of the assumption that difference is swallowed in synthesis, and thus, we might be suspicious of accounts that depend on a move to pure synthesis as somehow “higher” than other modes of expression/energetics. That is, we may exist as light and as the specific different prism body that is not actually light, but is, rather, something else [what Rilke at the end of the Sixth Elegy may be getting at by speaking of the hero as, at the end of all striving, simply anders (somewhere else]. Hence the problem is not to become light but rather to be both light and dark—Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a difficult marriage that is not a union, but, like all marriages, a being one and different.


One thought I have had with respect to this is that people may differ with respect to their ability to perceive in individual, social, or mythic terms. I read today that there is an envelope of warm air around a person, and I would argue that we “see” this envelope, the difference, in the same way that we see variations in air over water, and so on. It might also be the case that some people “see” the social dynamic. Even if they do not have a language for it or only partly understand it, they may see it or sense it, and, by this, have some tacit, provisional awareness that there is some “beast” in the room, some energy, a dynamic that matters. And, perhaps there can be a similar way of sensing other dimensions of the self as well, for which we have as yet only the religious/gnostic languages by which that fact has been said.


The difference then between Freud and Jung as a differences of which lens is used—Freud looking at the individual and his or her desires, Jung looking at and intuiting a social dimension or perhaps mythic dimension of self that as of yet cannot be said any other way than as collective and so on. Not a conflict, but an inevitable difference based on the fact that we exist both as individual and as social/collective beings.

My thought is that rather than choosing one or the other as accurate, we might better assume—along the lines laid out with respect to the disciplines—that each needs to be said, and that healing has to be pursued in each of these dimensions or scapes.

I found this to be true when working with my back problem. It was not talk therapy that healed me, or physical therapy, but a parallel pursuit of both in their own terms.


I see Merleau-Ponty’s notion of chiasmus as a best critical stance to assume vis-à-vis the relationship between topoi. That is, with respect to differentiation and synthesis, the best assumption is that these are occurring at the same time and that the difference is real. We are not just social mask or private self, we are both, however incongruous and discontinuous and paradoxical it might be to say this. We are composed somehow across this difference anyway, and nothing has ever stopped us from being ourselves in such terms except the horror of discovering the inconsistency.


Difference then not simply in terms of the visual sign that covers meaning, but, more radically, a difference as suggested by the difference between sight and hearing, where sight assumes it is not at stake in what it sees, while hearing always locates us in relation to the “cliffs” that echo back our cries.


So too a difference between individual and social and perhaps mythic or whatever we mean by mythic—a difference first said perhaps in terms of gender—hence the importance of gender as a clue or lead to thinking through what we might otherwise hope to say as homology or allegory, that a critique of gender shows to be inadequate.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

When Sam was perhaps four or five, we went to the Art Museum at UVA. There was an old Greek pot, perhaps from 1000 BCE according to the literature. I was telling Sam about it, and he turned to me and said "you mean the Greeks were real?"

I may not understand talk about history or historical consciousness that is in some relation to Hegel and Marx. That is, I think this means an awareness of the historically contingent nature of a trope or term or moment. In this sense the plot, so to speak, of history matters. That is, what does it mean to “know history” in a thing or relation or term. Once history as such is problematized, i.e., once we acknowledge that history may lack a plot, what does it mean to know history? What are we aware of?

I acknowledge the facticity of an artifact, its having been in time, and some duration that it carries, but it is hard to know if this is partly a sense I bring to the viewing. After all, not all old things speak this way.

& in one way “historical contingency” might be a new name for a discovery of limit and thus hated, a thing to be thrown off

I have the sense that “historical consciousness” is in some way a false consciousness, a wizard of oz thing that is really about something else.


I wrote the following along the margins of trying to think about history, though, as usual, it is also about other things.


The Desired Ruins


Odd jutted absences left by
ruler and scale, blood on the floor after,
elements of speech &
other flowers of history

we must read against our traces I
suppose, or that you would feel
a history I wasn’t, sitting near an Ottoman
while I made tea between afternoon walls.

Against class or whatever current
faux pas we keep digging into the floor,
the stick remembers to parse. Please
don’t notice any of the references

made by my selection of prints. I am
this, but we are to change history
not steep it we live among
places our bodies fit.


The performance space downtown on Stores
lacks a similar breath, but was nonetheless
designed as home’s Absalom. Childlike drawings
marked the warehouse a liberated where

history was strewn apart attic, disarmed
but still fly-like, festooned in fetish knots
hung net in curtained arc under a hard white
fixture. Hence a similacrum of a wallpaper,
purchase, carrying its own obedience,
the steps by which proper.


He glowed candescent as breath held
fed the brief, more intense, circatrice

up against the way days become knots
reflected sky across a window shade

thick species (it became mucus to
stop word’s curtain from//became rain

if saying makes it ripen too quick let
it be weather again in your windpipe

set that sail, not words, the ocean may
at last be vast enough, to dispel

last night’s reading was a smaller affair
woven bell-like into the sheep’s fence

(this is a place you know, not an “a”
beside sky anonymous—we were there)

In the atmosphere of corners he said,
“this is just your hope, you’d rather

I don’t think the ceiling was as close
as all that, as conversant, as dulled aping.”

I listened, but what to do with the different
registers? A quick sketch does no justice.

I call this Marat’s hand, the one he extended
to us, when we dropped by his rooms.

Just another buyer’s market that season’s
elemental chance, or change, does so undue.


The plot of my body’s day is not an adequate landscape for the breadth of my dreams written sideways and through walls. I am, sadly also that, in this body—at best a storm leaking because too full (swamp whisps, or gas jetting at night in Alberta). I suppose I could say the dreams catch on the thorns of my fingers and ribs, get caught there like seaweed, or Spanish moss, parasitic, trying to bloom in the air. This holds them a moment to a place I wish worked as regularly as a loom, instead sighs and shits, occasionally my tongue types a precise clatter, I catch dream scarves on my ulna, broken sill. All the years of my life have not been even close to whale enough to rise from the sea and swallow even one candescent slip of what I’ve dreamed and thus been charged to hold up before rocks, trees and sky, a man holding fist or bowl (or a small child showing his teacher a small metal car a year before he will discover he is ugly beyond words), what I’ve wanted, oh beautiful stars, such a great, great harbor and quilt.

I could search through my history for traces there was ever a place adequate to hold such an ocean. He said in Cambridge, or the evenfall of adolescent unity, when childhood spills into dusk, embrace and bone, there awkward in the August Plum Island sand or Ithaca, turned sardine blue by a deep Atlantic chill. All the bicycles parked against a room with stereos nodding Jefferson Airplane sell-out, in sub-urban as opposed to scaffolded bungalo boo. We are more than can be rationally supposed or turned artifact to skill.

The chef inside mutters “He’s just one more man hoping his life’s big enough to show everyone how big dream’s far away carnival lights shine out Atlantic summer are. He’s just one more paper myth tacked to the trailing index, pupae intact. See? Special. Reduce that fucking soup some more.”

In among small refuse a black obsidian difference might hold, not dreams, but that distance between the piled years and which dreams swept through them & piled autumn leaves as quilt asunder. Mark to keep your finger on or thumb, as if to sometime detonate or rub to smooth. Black obsidian chalice cicatrice or scarb to replace tooth. Under this rick, this well-stone talk, this auber. Button of sky.

I am hoping that making a fence from sheep’s wool will never-the-less “stop the gap”. But no rheostat can span the steepled difference that myth writes indicate over barns and yards. Nor flies of angels be what says the tall: a cardinal stood red, the tree against the sky, all doubled and dove to branch away.


Body needs to know scale dream flies through. Can’t. Won’t.
Dies (or dyes, yellow, its efforts in sills).

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Notes here wrestling with relationship of beauty to spectacle. I want somehow to tease these apart so that there can be beauty without murder. What follows are a few poem/transits over the issues.

1. Spectacle and Murder

The point is that every spectacle is a murder… the connection between spectacle, community, and murder. Gimmie Shelter.


Beauty & spectacle angled apart, sometimes visited like old sisters and fought, had tea, rolled their thin bones.

Picasso and Stein did not agree with this & had a more occasional sympathy of strong references that transfixed avenues.

Aspect aspect aspect of body become more linear writ. Birds among car or flocked towards descending planes.

But the kill. At spectacle does not drown her beauty. Did not. Though suicide is also a kind of goat.

Somehow we are offered not just a kill. “just-a-kill” says a sparrow (not a killdeer)—among the branches you see what I mean.

We do other things that are like discs in our breath, hold us towards warmth. (We left coins on his lips he saw no more.)

Cusp. Lunar edging against. Shadows & buildings. Aspect here at ruin. At night. He says the kill-count dhikr. Holds it in his teeth. His breath. Skirt hem.

All beauty is not spectacle only towards. Hours that do not translate yet. That I make peace over here, in this corner.

Altamont is a different transfiguration of access. A blood. Spectacle he tore from a body. “Comin’ through the Rye”.

I am attempting to separate the spectacle into its segments. Planar. De-activate I’s dagger. Insert coulds. (or clouds).

Words rush, no words among the rushes, brush apart the rushes. They were over there. It was different from what I was seeing. This land was inside my heart.

Its my spectacle I am cast over, mudra, seal side down, is not the red sky her sky I wounded.

I put apart on you as a difference in the count. That way you are not covered. As a first step but, not yet generous.

We are separate beauty and spectacle here according to facts at the edge. It rains.

At the end of all exclusions a figure pushes necessarily back.

2. Success and Doubles

I get that fame, that success happening, being able to hold it together for some reason through several social moments, moving between a variety of looks could be satisfying. I almost remember feeling that solid, as if there was a normal world, and it was okay to have been better than someone else, or that people wanted you or whatever it was that made it possible to get up and go inside with the others. And that, having made connections, making it to the back room, makes it more possible to do the things you are already good at (she moved to Woodstock I heard after a few years and had kids with an Italian guy I think they were) there are doors you can move through like this, they don’t look like anything. That wanting this, a person would be indifferent to other kinds of friendships as not related to the gathering mural working its way out of you, but like I said, I can almost remember, which means its hard to allow a mural to occur in the spaces you make within the general assertion of an era when you begin to notice a mural is slowly occurring and you start to watch close and it’s a horror story.

David Lynch got this pretty exact I think the discovery that one is not famous and match up not only poorly with the nearby selections and distances between people just so, but are actually part of an accident of some kind is happening is slow motion, you are that too, carrying it around and happening to pose in such a way as on schedule was necessary to continue being this way.

Once you catch sight of one story there are others that seem available you could say, positions that appear plausible to suppose over there next to her or being your desire like Bob Dylan was (I have never really been in my body precisely and do not recognize myself in photos maybe this is why I see a place next to someone a thing they need and think oh I could be that I could make myself that).

Meanwhile you have to decide what to do with the others who appear to be aspects or partial doubles of the script you are operating for instance, many stars have a series of doubles operating in approximations of the script you can encounter as people can get all kinds of things by looking at you.

This has gone tangent but is related that when I talk about fame I end up talking about doubles I am always falling for doubles and seem to be located in the position of observer which is not the most desirable location—a non-speaking part—your mirror Lou called it nailing it every fame needs an audience which means what backdrop or surrounding mandala features that properly echo and are shaped by figuration (what Olsen calls “projection” or Prothesis imimium, burst fire) pushed out watch me I am yours.

Sure fame is possible I suppose Monica Seles see but in general I imagine it occurs where appropriate and so again, looping back, it is hard to do this if you are out of time slightly or even a few decades mis-placed the arrangements you are making in space because you are in two places (at least) and thus thread between (this is what tantra—from stretch, thread, weave, etc, and stake—is about I select, tying to times together or thread like I didn’t need to learn that but perhaps could have piloted more smoothly.

Stereoscopic sight of modernism (I’m all serious now Prof hat on) as if looking at stills is, as usual, two-dimensional criticism failing to account for what Burrough’s snapped to, that we are also double in time at least, see twice and some days are about a different time altogether gets difficult to proceed and hence medication as fall back plan you know you are fucking up resonant yesterday or even tomorrow here in this restaurant beginning rhythms you can’t talk about yet without slight disruption of surface you have to absorb to make sure a butterfly effect doesn’t happen erase all the roads, no bookmobile, no way back.

Broke loose in this way and didn’t even murder anyone I dream I did and so perhaps in a slight way I have also still you are across time like this it becomes more difficult to arrive at the right time for her to turn her head the way she did, there at the town picnic, looking across the table clothes, out from under the American flag.

And that’s what really matters that there is no way to sew it back up and say I never went to Mission San Juan Bautista and have no idea what happens next I am right here arranging things that way, and she was from Kansas too, did you catch that?

I mean that fame as such as a thing has to be grace I suppose but then why are we haunted he looked out and this desire to be seen and not just see, how’s that fit in any specular theory of the “look” as usual when its said out loud the wrong people are punished. Power likes to hide that way.

Someone equally despondent remarks on how calculated this all is. I must have been here before. (Cue Julie Andrew in the Gazebo) I suppose that is one approach to take. Just look for yourself everywhere. Then all the times are the same. We do it all the time.

3. Triptych

RgVedic poet proposes, realizes, three topoi—an evocation of the seen dawn (perceived world), an evocation of an imaginaire (figures, mythemes, etc of devas), and ritual space—location of figural expression/action.

How like Anne Carson’s assessment of the lyric moment in Sappo’s gaze on two lovers—the beloved, the figure who loves (in this case, the imaginaire or person taken as imaginaire, the man who woos the beloved) and the self-witnessed, the new ground of self opened up by the consideration.

Not inner ground yet then, but the conditions for it in the Vedic ritual. As poet singer negotiating these three “spaces” catches glimpses of self moving from one topoi to another, watches as a term correlates or is an axis in this, across which the light changes (i.e., the topoi shifts).

Not yet fixed as heaven or earth or in a hierarchy, not yet subject to definition, but proposing a set of terms, or images, locating them as points of connection, knots in the web.

That moment, the shift from a gestural circling between topoi, to the determination of an order, as a moment of crisis, a desire extended through, that this be that. Socratic, Upanisadic, metaphysical difference in which sense and imagination are separated, sent to their respective fields, in which the glimpse of self as she (or he) shifts registers is hidden by a preoccupation and only remembered as a fetish term, uneasy and now gross image or letter, gross term now isolate.

Art Noveau as a reaching back to the organic necessary of the term ripped free, never abstract or surrealist eye or dot, because always shaped according already to a shaping and weathering—we forget. Hence, we are never isolate star, point self, term ripped free of the weave that is proposed, that we suggest by voice, and only after we can no longer remember the deep, beautiful propositions of our singing would we consider self as such, as a remainder apart.

An what fantastic topoi we realize in art, in theatre, what fantastic, rich beauty we say to each other and by saying make bloom in an otherwise desert or slumbering. And bring to form, to matter, that we suggest into time—timeless flowers, absent a moment before.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Journal Notes on Religion

The following are my Journal Notes for the work building up to "The Star of Araby" and comments I offer at "No One's Rose" on Religion


To say God to be careful he said
what do you really believe a sock
turned inside out lies at the end
of the bed. cautious is to say I
must constantly circle (erased)
to protecting a wound (but my
hand was there perhaps a warm
place or that the sun warmed).

I am saying that this matters
itself inflected by history
Philadelphia train-station in
thin grey light (emitted by
marble?) or echoing stone—
that is to matter is what this
business is about this inflection
as tack inscribes
icon lattice dropped down a

I am to say God like that pushed
tongue his clitoral response my
marsh wood dreamt hollow and
double the doubled open that
matters said.


Watching the end of No Country for Old Men, I thought “huh, this is the way you end a story if you don’t believe in God”.

A guy in the grip of serial chance.

I read somewhere Cormac MacCarthy, the author of the story the film takes off from, has been living out in the desert at a scientific utopian community they talk about the “future”. I suspect reading this that he is the obverse side of Friedman’s flattening. What you get—well we always have it—a new name for it then. A flat series. The assumptions being apocalyptic mixed together the way poppy field suburban landscapes cover over a human difficult our murderous, lifts out that motif and takes a pinch of Reagan era fuck it, and too much analytic positivism. The whole thing ruined and brewing over he’s neat sitting in desert aquarium in clean work pants predicting.

A Jack London in the lower forty-eight.

I get survival and its bitters is a key scenario grace so fickle a boy throws his Swedish Cook stove across two lanes of an Alberta highway shouting “Wouldn’t You? Wouldn’t You?”.

I can’t speak for grace I can say a car might stop or when but we are small, easily destroyed and impossible.

weather is as close and even then clime makes a pattern grace occurs

not serial, and articulate.


Bardo 11/10-12/19

The lecture I wrote about last time concerned the inanimate as other and the impossibility of thinking this and thinking it anyway. Ken Suern noted he was interested in this as a way back to religion.

In general, a key aspect of monotheistic discourse, whether in India or the Middle East is the notion that God somehow exceeds knowledge or being. There are many ways to propose this. I could see that Ken’s suggestion could be that the interest the speaker found in post-War existentialist writing about the inanimate other could be read as yet another version of this postulate, this thing that needs to be said, or that we can think. Although we were talking in a Philosophical discursive context, the thought here is in relation to negation, and, in this sense, not so different from negation/transcendence as a trope in theological discourse.

That is, once we’ve decided to speak in philosophical terms, we nevertheless find the same problem related to our relation to being.

A strong emphasis on negation and the thought of what cannot be thought can be found as one kind of move made in many religious traditions, from Buddhism, the Christian via negativa, to aniconism, to Islamic theology more generally. It is one kind of instinct or trajectory. I call it the “wisdom” trajectory. When talking in terms of poetics, I have recently referred to this as an interest in “fixing light”. It is Promethian and generally people pursuing it think of it as heroic, manly, the work of a mythic hero, a way to be a hero.

And there is a light beyond sense, the light Rothko announces. Streams through words. Maybe Pound was trying to fix it in Images.

And, as long as I am rattling associative, I’d have to say that maybe the Lurianic Kabbalah with the trope of the cracked vessels of creation—literally an effort to fix light—is yet another version.

And perhaps I am right to think of this as yet another masculine myth, a myth where the feminine Shekinah, far from descending as God’s daughter is read as a veil that leaks from God.


I think there is a second way towards God or a Good in Being, a second trajectory I call “shape-shifting” when I talk in performative terms, where the goal is not to be Promethean, but to show people that shape, in fact, shifts.

And we are okay, unharmed. A broken pot, and its okay, and we are held, not be what cannot be thought but by the absence (not cartographic, not a place, not a wom) of any unchanging or unknowable anywhere.



I wrote this then about what is called “Transcendental Cinema” which was one, often French, approach to filming a relation to the sacred

An assumption of transcendental cinema is that God cannot be represented thus always absent or outside screen and representative scope, so that image refuses.

Old via negativa tactic we feel the weight of a limit and thus imagine backside or distance but know its not fathomed, get to that realization all tightened down about what can and cannot be said and thus, in those terms, an absence or can’t be seen.

Film does it a few ways—black and white, and edge of screen or frame, and beside, light painted on the screen, so what’s behind that, so we are aware out of the corner of the eye, of a difference, but are drawn to light.

Old men among goats we rigorously (or dutifully) erase what we read.

I mean we are saying existential assumption factor here, factor and parse. A thin lip & even the surreal just surface. Goats climbing the stairs we know someone filmed them a surface.

Maybe all the over phallus boys all static network weather: grim warrior
hunger for abscess. I am not saying this straight enough.

A hunch: one kind of guy or girl keeps being taken by absence, by the idea of absence and keeps desire bent, all hints of absence or madness are like rose petals, Orphic crumbs. So the conversation, there, on that hillside, always comes back to this. Start from anywhere, we are back to absence. The distance. A keen.

See the tie? Mebbe transcendental cinema is more about that desire and economy, establishing and performing, a hunting magic for absent descent, for space clues. Written in light.

all critique of depth especially dignified by ontological diction we switch too, just culture after all, a thing we be-saying, to satisfy one salt

I ain’t drinking this no more, this perfume you keep all focused on. Smoke and tide and something mo’ ‘bout you than I.



I turned to Jehanne the other day we were driving and I said, “I think the issue I have been struggling with in different ways might come down to that I love God and other folks start from somewhere else for one reason or another.

I don’t know if this is what Hassan or anyone else who’s ever said I wasn’t “in my time” meant, but it just seems like its where I go left and someone else goes right.

What do I mean by “loving God” or “God for that matter. And how do I avoid—well it might not be for me to do it, but what to do with folks who see me invoking invictus?

I certainly do not hold any kind of orthodox or traditional notion of “God” I just use the term as a simple “in the park” kind of thing as more or less a term to meet at given the range of complexity.

When I talk about this in class—when I propose a more or less common term I use “a sacred” and “a good in being” where this being a person is a particular kind of scared or, rather, brings certain things to the table. (I.e., the difference as such between a red-blue sky and distance, and that guy over there has an opinion I am related to like shore to sea and forever tidal and negotiate, which is not how we see ourselves against sky though it could be.

And when I say “a good in being” I often tell a story about seeing the summer stars. Five years old maybe younger with my brothers “sleeping out” in out Suburban backyard quarter between house and hedge and driveways, among the daddylong legs that spooked at the brick foundations. We slept out and sometime maybe two or so I woke up and looked up and saw that Northern summer sky with Milkyway thrown out & Northern Cross laying on it (though I didn’t know its name then to find) and this sight gave me a deep and profound little kid sense of a perfect, delightful, a joy I laughed and rolled over back to sleep what else to say?

What did I know at that time? or recognize? What’s the right word for the seeing and rolling over in delight and security safe? And which way was the action? Going out of my imagining or put down into me stars stooped down to tell me an order, a way? Always feels like a falling into and then rising back, me. A being pressed I rose to.

That basic movement of fall and rise . I awoke to (too?) (two?)

See that’s the warrant for me. Knowing that, I have a touch stone or plumb I keeping going back to or start from. A goodness in being outstrips other evidence or at least I’ve decided to be loyal to as good as any other.

I can’t say if this is like seeing Beatrice, or if it even marks me special, though I’ve often I suppose had this sense in mind someone asks “am I saved” or “does God talk to you?” I think “oh David means “Beloved of God” & I am that”. A secret private enough thought. Not something you say aloud or’s special as it’s a duty too. No, what I worry more about is that I’ll disappoint not figuring out the task of this and just piss it away

So, my mytheme is about leakages, that I, apparently, leak. What I hope now is that I someone how leak some of this, but how could I since its grace and not like Johnny Appleseed something from me, but through. Could use any channel. I don’t know what it means to be touched this way.

What it means to love God then is to prefer this and make room for. To withhold hatred. Not hating the sky or night and hating instead to turn away from life/God, this being here, into some other more perfect we are always susceptible to and desire as our own.

So I am loyal to the sun I can barely say its light and how much I need it I sit in an afternoon in late fall it keeps coming it’ll be back and push the leaves. That’s God I suppose or one of the ways I taste and recognize as falling into me.


basic movement of fall and rise as lip turn of lyric made possible by discovery of “two” I met.



I am imagining from Scholem book a sense of being a person—well here’s the image—above my head but reversed is not quite a mirror image of myself, but God in me, what it means to think of God as a person & so, perhaps a bit like the Chagal painting of the kiss, the guy flying down to kiss (or lifted up by it) that so perfectly says the kind of delight one feels in love.

& Once I am thinking in images like this, several correlates occur which are also historically related… the letter hum perched up over Buddha figure, as itself ladder or lattice, or kundalini subtle body as graph of this relation, or kabbalic tree with its reflective turn. I think, here too there is this motif of a descent and rise (Orphic?) a pulsing, what is called spanda

Today I picked up a book by Arthur Danto, The Abuse of Beauty, and come across scene Kant uses to characterize the sublime is exactly that sight of the night sky to which I turn, though he has some other things to say, concerned as he is to preserve certain categories I say it fell into me, and rises back I am.


still, the first nip at my ankles comes when I begin to consider the relationship between loving God, or seeing beauty, this power, this mode of being and social modes I interact with folks and we get into the business of sorting out master themes or overtomes I am not allowed to say… that love of others is based on love of self I love God but am not so sure about whether I am an utterly suitable

hence the difference I am saying here, say, between my sense of good and what appears to command interest of others (we can no longer assume good will) as a difference I choose to argue about or notice—what am I making in that… people cannot be forced to love God & so am I attempting to be myself a sublime they could know?

Do I have a shape that is a true fact the way stars are?



Resnikoff—in the appendix to the Black Sparrow The Poems of Charles Reznikoff 1918-1975

makes several remarks about objectivism; his notions circle around several themes—the first is that this term characterizes a poet “who does not write directly about his feelings but about what he sees and hears” (p. 371—i.e. as testimony); he then quotes Goethe to this effect, and goes on to say that, nevertheless, feeling is expressed. He then cites a French translation of a Japanese text to the effect that Zen “puts the strongest emphasis on personal effort and forgetfulness of self” (p. 372). Later he quotes a passage from an 11th century Chinese text that “Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling.

after this his remarks focus on music

Paul Davies Becket and Eros: Death of Humanism: as example of bad use of Buddhism in Continental context

terrifyingly appears to take Heart Sutra at its word in assertion of non-being and purports to be interested in the heat/desire that exists between being and non-being.

p. 12 Complete Being is glossed as “the Unity of existence” in which “there can be, it follows, no ‘Other’ that is not a pretense or phantom” – he’s also written a book Romaticism and Esoteric Tradition: Studies in Imagination.

Scholem: Kabbalah born in 12th century in Languedoc, a region in Western Provence with Montpellier as chief port and Toulouse on the river Garonne which flows into the Gironde estuary near Bordeaux. The region is defined by a massif between the Rhone river valley and that of the Garonne; moves from there to Aragon and Castile in Spain

1150-1220: Cathars and Albigenses

Albigenses: perpetual chastity and vegetarian diet; man is a living contradiction (from Catholic texts); accept reincarnation; divine spark fallen into matter; adoptionist or docetic views of Jesus.

A group of texts from 1st/2nd century focuses on Merkabah (Chariot) mysticism involving travels of the chariot through the seven palaces or temples (Hekhaloth) which ends with arrival at throne of God; there the mystic receives the Shi’ur Qomah (measurement of the body), i.e. sees anthropomorphic image of God which the Song of Songs also describes. (pp. 21-24)


the trouble with Objectivism—20th century US versions anyway—are that the move to dampen self-expression, towards description occurs exactly alongside an increasing shift and preference for the rational and material as the vectors for any economy (determination/expression of value)

coupled with the dominance of Marxism among those interested in justice, there is a veering that occurs, a commitment to the surface, to “just description” that predicts depth as always unknown or to use, Perloff, indeterminate—an, in this sense subject to a fault that always haunts all assumptions of the unknowable, that one could imagine or fall in love with that, imagine it as a place, somewhere real, instead of the depth of a surface, or, rather, the depth a surface is a face for; this is especially so if it is that second depth that matters in these brick to grass descriptions of yard tools, that we should be listening or watching out of the corner of our eye for something suggests that is the real thing to keep one’s eye on—hence a method of eternal bondage in the sense of being double bound, to look at the edges, but not see

that is, what matters is not the color at the edge, but the thing, the surface of it we discard or attenuate and manage—all the rules go to precision there—and materialist assumptions reinforce the logic that says no real depth—only I am saying if we have an objectivist impulse without materialist assumptions, then something else happens and thing is friable and can be dug through, or maybe even becomes sentient under the force of our consideration, not as anthropomorphic, but as if the warmth of our attention made life come to be (maybe even in that old Indic pattern of warmth to water—thus, watching the rose or garden edge or wall there was a blooming, a precipitation and thus place, the way water by announcing itself as drop produces lens/space, or fills space, shouldering air aside.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Perfectionism

° Where I start from is incident of Stanley Cavell’s lecture today at Duke and quick thoughts about ordinary language philosophy as a spur of analytic philosophy, a technical corrective that does not quite get at basic ethic, which is, among other thing, connected with a perfectionist purpose—a desire to be exact, right, thorough, complete—that extends its hand in the arts, philosophy, development of personal ethics and so on.

° As Buddhist practitioner for 10 + years, I have been deeply inflected by a perfectionist impulse & it still draws me to analytic philosophy, to a generous sense of the value of good analysis, and a desire to get at what a thing is. The deep questions that finally made it impossible to “be a Buddhist” are connected to a critique of perfectionism & mastery projects. There is a connection between deep ambivalence for “desire” and its messy and unstable valances and ascetic project of getting at a thing. I chose in the end for desire.

° Theme of perfection haunts Pound/Olsen trajectory in American poetics. There is a discipline, and a withering critique of what is less than perfect and needs a cull.

° What I call a technical critique is a complaint about tactics and stance that does not repudiate an ethic.

° A critique of perfectionism is a difficult essay. It so quickly can be suggested that the critique itself, as such, is a correction and is, therefore, perfectionist in its purposes. I believe this involves a confusion of topics.

° People tend to read to their respective games. We discuss partly to shoulder each other to our respective interests. When a person points out you are being perfectionist in your complaint, they are reasserting the authority/regime of their game. Note that nothing has been said about the complaint, which quickly becomes a non-issue. This is called a counter-suit; in interpersonal relations, it means the other person is really not listening.

° Simply because a thing can be said to belong apparently to a species or series does not mean that this is what it is, or that the species definition is a sufficient delineation of scope, tendencies, character, and so on. All species definitions are simples.

° When I speak of a confusion of topics, I mean a difference in playing field. Surely there is a point to periodically pointing out that perfectionist purpose is not the only field we play on. Perhaps all poetic evocation of a second ground, all shamanic discovery of a second mode of being, is just a way of saying again there is something else, another thing we are doing.

° Perfectionism is a form of disciplinary violence and a regime. All regimes produce new adherents who will be willing to “go to war” in the name of protecting the regime.

° People read to their interests. In “Without Words” I suggested that my audience “reach through my words, to take whatever they desire”. Most often it’s a mirror of some kind. A desire to lay a set of cards on the table, designs, other plans, to have a conversation about that.

° I suppose I am as bad as anyone and half know this because I watch myself so close, each hand’s movement considered from several angles—an old strategy for making a still.

° Only a few—and is it just women?—seem to be interested in whether the mirror has anything to say. A different world back behind the black grasses hidden where the scotoma flicks eclipse across you.

° On bad days, I sort through the people who come at me after a reading. I know I am asking that they go beyond the surface of their expectations. They’ve looked for the coins they think should be flashed & not finding these go in several directions. Some, feeling the power in the piece anyway, go competitive and assume there must be some hidden demonic interest in what I am doing that they a) either want in on, or b) have to confront as an evil. This is called a projection. Others seeing clearly that I am not interested in power simply sneer at my “weakness”, at my failure to perform the prerequisite “dance of the chains”.

° On some days I do not mind the hands rifling through the drawers; other days its as if hands were brushing aside carefully considered webs//unheard whispers.

° Long ago, Lisa handed me this scrap of paper said “I am not of your race. I belong to that Mongol clan which brought forth on the earth a monstrous truth—the authenticity of life—and a knowledge of rhythm. You do well to hem me in with the thousand and one bayonets of western enlightenment, for woe unto you should I leave the dark of my cave and set about in earnest to chase away your clamoring.”

° I suspect I am of mixed race, since analysis still draws me, dazzles me with the promise that rigor will straighten a thing into appropriate habits and as a key to a mimetics that wants to make another feel a thing that passes.

° Slip, missed foot, bald spot make witness against a perfect finish. Chopped note, over play as elements to mingle alongside evidence of the perfect, not as a more perfect, but as a result of the desire to care, which also produces a consideration and wants a mimetics.

° Rilke speaks of praise—hence truth as praise rather than mantle, as call. A turn to things driven less by mastery or precision but by care, love, consideration, mercy.

° In Buddhist meditation aimed at developing one-pointed attention, one first has to grip hard to pull mind again and again back to its object. But, in time, the handler realizes this alone won’t quiet the horse, and, instead, you begin to let the rein loose again.

° I am asserting a bifurcation, or drawing the line more sharply. There is bluster here and hyperbole. I am dissatisfied with this, not because of its imperfection, but because I sense there is a dimension of care that hasn’t been reckoned, a line I’ve crossed.

° Someone else more experienced with the public arena is frustrated I am suggesting we go back to the beginning. We either have some choice or we do not. They’ve been sitting on the other side of the boat and have been working hard to steer it as well.


Monday, October 05, 2009

A First Disquieting and Spider Geneology

James Longenbach’s Stone Cottage treats Yeats/Pound friendship by a study of--I think it was--three winters they spent together in a cottage near house of future wives. There is a quote I have to paraphrase—Pound speaks of image truly realized as a place in which one would be after death. Whether he meant immortality in art or actually thought of himself—like a tantric Buddhist—as actually producing image of a future life is not clear. Still, given this, the work of resisting slight flimsy bad French symbolist poetry is less about gender—though it is surely still about this—then a doubt that it was a good way to go about making a boat of one’s soul. It is a methodological critique, and, as such it begs the question of the perfect, machined or sharp wrought, that a person can never be, And that’s what I meant about gender too.

Machines extend the reach of a human interest—that’s something S. Kubrick said when asked about 2001: a Space Odyssey. He was saying we mostly want to murder we don’t know why. And so here, a desire to be perfect as a way to avoid the catch death.

Aristotle says a man—and I think we should read “man” here—reaches his end in adulthood. And maybe there is an echo there of the old notion of the stele which captures a man’s best moment, rushing forward in full strength into battle, as “image” scrawled on stone over grave. Aristotle doesn’t have a lot to say about death as a man’s end, which is a bit of a slip for a natural philosopher you ask me.

To be perfect is to avoid death. If I only eat a grain of wheat a day I become shining and pure. If I stand by this fence for a year on one leg, I disappear into the colors and am perfectly hidden as tree or the dusk.

I think Pound is right one way about the image—and maybe in his own time, this was what Plato was after as well—a way to say that a second order of being existed that was made of light and not the dim half-light of symbolist dreamscape. But I think both are wrong about that second order as the locus of something fixed and immortal, truly lit up. Here I am thinking about Tarkovsky and how lucky he was to work with moving images, to make images in time that, not matter how true, were also episodic.

A few weeks back, I was suggesting to Joe a difference between a lyrics of light and a lyrics of shape-shifting, where the first is a lyric that attempts to make itself clean so that a still light sounds. It is Promethean & wants to steal fire. The second is a lyric that attends to the way shape turns; it wants to make roses suddenly appear in a room, wants to paint a room into a well, wants to discover what remains unlit at the edge where body ends and further dark of night is also soul.

A long time ago I wrote an odd children’s lit piece about a pair of sprites—Allbright and Amorice—who were joy beings about us.

Any numbered thing has a third or a fourth and what dense complex geometries begin to occur, and so I would not divide the world into light and change. So these are dimensions let’s say, aspects of lyric, and perhaps desires or seasons that, like water, require us.


In Anne Carson’s book on Sapho and lyric, *Eros, the Bittersweet”, she considers a poem in which the poet watches a man woo a woman, and the man’s desire becomes a vehicle for her to say her own desire as well. Carson takes us off then through the notion of poem/image as mediating term between self (as yet undisclosed) and other (unmet) who come into relation through the image.

The motif of statue/image as portal to absent or dead lover is found in many stories about image and portrait, and the question always ends up focusing on the authenticity of the image, which strikes me as a lapse, since the image can only be gesture and is real enough as such. The question of authenticity then is a question about realizing self and other in the image, which is the wrong place for either, since a question about an extremity is best answered by a return to ground, where gravity can bear.

Sapho-self looking out is not Sartre hid behind the key-hole, but she lays out a rug she and the other could sit on when a figure for her desire is scried. Hence poem as ritual space, as lattice worked out into relation and tied down to say that. I love and where I emerge into the light of my image I also pull another possible other towards me.

Hence, what Rilke speaks of as “call” in the Seventh Elegy.


Here’s some poems along the edges of this:

1. With Plaint

Commerce made no dent in this—call it a God-shaped hole or mind—calling.

After WWII, how could you say there was no difference between daily life and art, and what could that have been (were it a place), but another Brigadoon?

Ruined asters and velvet detritus. In dawn, dandelion must and Dresden ash and moth floated on rivers of air, bell-like, illusory dragons.

Oh terrible conflation of Asian no-thought and desperate material hour in aftermath abundance.

Oh slip of the tongue & clever Dis. Mantled associations in subset living room. A Middleburg amounts. Slough forgets downtown.

Earth not equal. Shouldn’t enumerated sequence no longer tongue apt at say it? A furnace gape? Mars its stations (oh, oh, the polio lines, trailing sonombulant aisles too) Ghost dance bread lines.

No longer make equal inter-Sant (was patient) who sang a trick. Oh Coyote hadn’t we understood? (The way you disappeared behind the billboard? The way you ate the sun?)

2. Sea

tidal wash I spoke
into the waters of September

mourn thought hook-fretted
far distance spangles

3. At Salt Woman’s

What spends at its soothe (her
immolation rain-feathers: her
cascade) “I make many
houses on the bright soil
you dreamt, where
your eyes fell”

[I invite your ingestion
I put your sign up at
the outset, but it
says “Tupelo” and
we are that much
farther off track in a spelling,
as fingered apart

from lotus-light to dispersed
newspaper, stained by black
Mississippi water.]

translation of hour into
gutter’s leaf, metallic impart,
this between brushing
your flanked hair, rests on
I would, open as cloud-
less sky

One name for your dry lake
is cherry-pit marked
could be Joshua bathing
or salt, we both
know it.

4. From “Places I’ve Lived”

Specific triangle between North/South US 5
South of LA yoga-spent patchuli incense
half hour under median bushes

[Since I remain orient-wise a
spider web, from which rib
does this bridge depart? could you
navigate back, hand tracing
its suspended string?]

One night, still tied
to my tongue’s dream
the way cans rattle behind a
vanishing wedding

That’s place with you
I ask for salt, you brush
curry on my arm. Whose fat
do we eat
without story?

Confused among many nights
a carapace riddle made
imbricate by asked dawn series
flicker past.

Somewhere, perhaps on a mantle
too high to see, she
left a note for me
under a cup. Could you
look to see?

After that the cards spoke
in soothing futures. It was
San Francisco after all. They
let me sleep under the
shelf in the moon of
the cross three nights

5. On Reading Olsen in August

left to devices the carpet//folds tensed
by a 10 AM sun, makes thin light of it//too little
to drink and this hurts what we
threaded with geese and breath//under slips in
a closet & thyme you put up to catch flies

these knots make “what weeds
as an explanation
leaves out is” a suggestion turns
footpath certain we touch “that chaos”
is not our condition” too many patterns
standing on driveways, hats off
for “that relaxation” he meant—therefore a
flash of teeth

a thickened shadow, the black spot he says
to say he’s not scotoma-shopping
falls from him lattice you pick
your way up rose-shadows Romeo
door that I am you bend against

a third//in Sapho’s hands
spied self before figure lifts
its skeletal sunflower against
what limit?

what you push against to project//all flowers
water as parenthesis and

death’s restraining hand

I’d open windows to a mingled also.

6. The Red Thread

she and I are the red thread worked into the late afternoon

veil I am apart oceans or falling hair separate

we become archetype rain scrawled temporal

vine growth under eyelids writ bad fairy sulk


7. Buddha Looked Left

Buddha sat
like cloth dipped
in the water of
the day—shook
out, hung up
by mom on the
line, on the line
‘neath the Great
Lake limestone skies
‘neath Gabriel &
all other saints (stone
gone sky), he sat
dipped like die
and then he
looked aside
from what
pulled & he saw
he saw
She was walking
by his side.

8. Image Poetry with Swan

images change is the trouble
that stillness or a sharp beak
distill the red thread running
through the day, and yet
sky a perfect longing over oaks
is still heavier
demands out hear

9. At Sky

what wants to become color has not been flower
what wants to be light has not been a moon

what wants to be feeling needs the never-ground of water
these three make a garden meet

all things still the count goes on from any poise
uneven footed turns grate straw paths between