Jun 30, 2003

The Other Shoe
I'd like to write a series of short stories--say, a collection of 10 or 20--all featuring, somewhere along the way, the stories of a missing shoe.
Pending Bridge
      As history
Forms free action
            My history
By choice
      —a word determined.

informing me by telegram
blown with leaves and newspaper in damn-
nation of flattened cigarettes.

Choices always mine,
Restricted to the line:
A child dancing on railroad tracks.

Jun 27, 2003

Questions Leading Somewhere…
A Collection of Uncollected Thoughts on Narrative

I seem to have caught the opening of Beethoven’s 5th. When things fall silent, I instinctively repeat it: DUH duh-dta-dah, DUH duh-dta-duh. Before that it was the opening of Coltrane’s Blue Train. These questions remind me of that.

A student tells how his girlfriends broke up with him. His companion sympathizes, making up a story of his own to illustrate what he thinks the student should learn. He pretends the story is true when he never had such a break-up. Why does this matter?

‘Is that a true story?’ the child asks of Robin Hood and his merry men. What changes in the hearing of the narrative? Perhaps it is a wrong question? Is that a cop-out of an answer? What value of the Beowulf narrative is predicated on its ‘actually happening’? What does it mean for something to ‘actually happen’?

If Sancho Panza had written the story of his adventures of Don Quixote instead of Cervantes, would they have ‘actually happened’? I seem to come up looking like Quixote—or Sancho to the sympathetic—every time I rise as the defender of myth.

Gangster films often show story-telling characters, the gangster facing trouble will repeat the stories of their fathers and uncles and associates and legends. Consider Godfather II as the largest example of this. Michael deals with his rise to Godfather and the beginning of his fall by telling himself the story of Vito’s rise. This double unfolding gives Michael and the viewers a sense of history and a sense of contrasting direction in the unfolding of Vito’s story and Michael’s story. We see this same need constantly in the telling of small anecdotes. In Way of the Gun, the film opens with a story about the main characters as an explanation of their character and also of their way in life. In Donnie Brasco, anecdotes tutor Donnie in how he should act and how to weather rough times. In Boondock Saints, the leading pair uses the stories of the movies as a pattern, stories they have to reject. When a figure is facing destruction—Pachino in Godfather II or Scarface—stories are repeatedly told to the point of obsession. The unstated belief seems to be that the narratives told hold the secret that will give full understanding of the present situation. One tells that story about cousin George again because if told correctly it will reveal the answer to my problems.

Apparently sailors did this too, judging from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness where he pushes storytelling beyond the obvious purpose of consuming time and moves to a description of the ‘nut’ that is the thing each listener is listening to grasp. He then puts Marlow’s story of Mr. Kurtz on a different ground, saying Marlow’s stories are about the aura around them rather than cracking to the center.

Even a superficial knowledge of narrative and anthropology shows that sailors and gangsters are not unique in storytelling. It seems almost beyond dispute that to be human is to be a storyteller. Culture exists as a function of narrative. History is so obviously so as to be uninteresting.

In what way is humanity in the narrative and in what way is the narrative an attempt to ferret the problems of humanity? How are the two different?

My uncle describes his coming to poetry, as a leaving of narrative, saying he recognized that what he cared about deeply were things incidental to narrative. He wanted to focus on the way a cigarette is crushed on the sidewalk, say, and that can only serve as a distraction to narrative drive and never as the center. He was a poet in his wanting to describe details for their sake, without a need for the stories.

I feel an echo to all his talk of attention to detail, to the description of “the whole world caught-up in one dust bunny,” but then I take these thoughts and run them in my approach to the construction of a journalistic narrative. I write about a fire and describe the haze of the smoke in its juxtaposition to the yellow of fire hoses. I take the thought that “the whole world is caught-up in one dust bunny” and assume that means the dust bunny is an important narrative. The description of a funeral-goer grasping a pair of key chain fuzzy dice is not tangential, because it is the narrative. I repeat the detail—“she grasped a pair of fuzzy dice at the funeral”—with the same need as the Mafioso talking about his father. I suspect that if I understand this detail I will understand everything. I never make the move to a break from stories. I’m agreeing with the Imagists, but suspect I’m doing it wrong. I never get over, past, or out of the story.

Adam Prizio, Hillsdale alum and film student, locates the difficulty of his first film project in the connection between details and scenes and entire narratives: “On the train before class I started writing a scene, and I stopped because I had no greater context, no story to contain the scene. I realized that I'm going to have the same problem with filmmaking that I've always had with writing: I can't create entire narratives. Individual scenes and actions always suggest themselves to my imagination, but I have the hardest time placing them in the dramatic arc of a greater happening. Always have.”

I wonder how much of this has to do with a too expansive view of narrative, an ignoring of the narrative of a detail. How complicated does a story have to become before it is a story? This may, however, be nothing more than my training on a daily paper to find the pathos of humanity in a drunk pushing a junked car into a lake or a woman stealing and selling her grandfather’s rifles to buy drugs. The stories are simple, one-dimensional things that are the story of everything. I would often feel overwhelm at the weight of the story I was telling, how this person who spent a few minutes on the docket and filled a few inches of my paper was fully representative of humanity. I get lost in the way the simplicity carries so much complexity.

I’m trying to test this in fictional narrative. I want to tell a story where a man realizes, in the course of a single conversation, that he is a fraud. I believe in the idea, but have no idea if it works and, directionally, seem to have the same problem as Prizio. What does it mean to say that the whole narrative is contained in the way my fictional fraud smokes a cigarette? If I describe that for 500 words what was lost or gained in my story?

Which would reveal more about man: the first word or the first narrative? Could I have a language without stories? What would it look like? Math? Would it cease to be a language when it excluded stories?

Hillsdale College’s Dr. Jim Stephens ends his introductory philosophy course with a turn to narrative as perhaps a better method of answer questions. This justifies the feeling of freshman Socrates is an annoying bastard. One is allowed to stop abstracting definitions of ‘charity,’ e.g., and can instead tell a story of Mother Teresa. This first appears a frightening loosening of the formal strictures of logic, and then we realize that humans are already structured towards narratives and against deductions. Kant’s morality only comes into focus when one builds a story and attempts to live in it with and without his theorems. “Though the whole world may burn to a cinder” only makes sense when I imagine a moral choice of mine leading to that result. For Stephens, the end of philosophy is narrative. In this, he threw me from philosophy back into stories.

The Structuralists developed from the study of linguistics to the study of myths. Post-Structuralists seem to do the same, with Derrida starting on language and the academic study centering in literary criticism. S. and Post-S. seem to believe it is our narratives, at least the form of them, that show up the skeleton of human thought. Is this move a simplification or a complication?

How does phenomenology, wanting to see things as things, approach narrative? A bridge here? A compromise?

What relation, perhaps even stylisticly, does my inability to collect this series of paragraphs have to my difficulty with narrative?

What emerges when we divide the saints into narrative and non-narrative categories? What happens when we oppose the value of single-narrative saints (e.g. Christopher or George) with the multi-narrative saints (e.g. Albain or Peter) or with the non-narrative saints (e.g. Anselm)? Are there really any non-narrative saints? Consider Augustine and the story of his conversion.

Most of the “why”s aimed at me are answered somewhere in here.

I suspect that if this was a philosophy rather than a collection paragraphs only describable as a jumble, I would be producing something significant.
Realizing, with a surging complicated and an ebbing simple, that I have no idea what I'm doing and then that this has no relevance to the doing.

Jun 25, 2003

To the Growl of Tom
Mercy mercy, Mr. Percy, there ain't nothing back in Jersey
But a broken-down jalopy of a man I left behind
And the dream that I was chasing, and a battle with booze
And an open invitation to the blues
Against Which to Manifest
And yes, I am aware that this blog o’ mine seems to be specifically structured for optimum inaccessibility.

Actually, that’s me and the blog is just a tool for my manifestation. If it succeeds there, a little, I will be happy. So, I realize I’m perpetually unfair to my faithful readers—demanding interest in strange poetry today, scary philosophy tomorrow and touchy theology on Wednesday—but that falls out of the project.
An Authentic and Pre-Determined Choice
Prizio wonders why the 'dale seems to be taking in Protestants and churning out orthodox.

I don't know.

The question obviously has some merit. The trend can't be denied. Yet it bothers me, because I don't want to think this conversion happened to me because of some school. It seems less authentic if that is true. But my general response to the observation is to point to a larger movement away from Protestantism and towards a tradition-embracing expression of Christianity. Yet that hardly makes it more authentic. It makes the my move more like something looking like the Jesus People movement.

I suppose I'll have to submit to the forces of history on my 'free will,' but I'd like to find a loop-hole.

Jun 24, 2003

Three Strange Places I've Slept
Part of an ongoing series of a weird legend...

1. The closet of an in-construction house.

2. Under a pinball machine in the Detroit Metro.

3. On the sidewalk in Chicago.

Jun 23, 2003

"He wanted to say, God, the things we want. He said: 'How is the party.'"
Benny Profane in Thomas Pynchon's V.

Jun 20, 2003

The Failings of the A-Historic
The foundational problem with Doug Wilson's thesis on church— "We therefore affirm a doctrine of apostolic succession, but this is not a succession of ordinations. That is not the basis of unity. Rather, it is a succession of baptisms, and all that those baptisms represent."—is that the one baptism, the orthodox faith, was perpetuated through history by a system of government, by a succession of authority. The thing Wilson wants to preserve was preserved, historically, by an authoritative structure.

If one looks to Christian history, there seem to be only two options: 1) True Christian faith was lost almost immediately and no orthodoxy was ever preserved or perpetuated, or 2) The successive governmental structure of the Church worked and Christianity was preserved against the great heresies, giving us the scripture, the creeds, and indeed the faith intact.

If one wants the intellectual honesty of not ignoring the history of the church and one wants any recourse against the Gnostics, Aryans, etc., it seems that #2 is the only option.

This is, I realize, an attack on sola scriptura. In addition to not providing its own support (1 Timothy 3:15), this is an a-historic doctrine. But then, a-historicity is the field of Protestant’s playing. A Protestant need the canon without the canonization and, right here, Wilson needs orthodoxy without Orthodoxy. To be a Protestant is to be without history.

To reject the succession of the apostles is to reject, historically, the preservation of the faith and protection of the creeds. It is to reject, then, the thing that saved Christianity for us. One can’t have the one baptism without the apostolic succession.

I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church

Update:Matt Colvin expands his view of apostolic succession.
Jon Amos points me to his talk on apostolic succession. Suprisingly, I don't have a quarrel with his centeral point that the church=the baptized. Again, I just don't think we have the one baptism without the historic govt. and I don't think we have a canon without canonization.

There are ways to get out of history. I don't want to.
Grand Piano and Other Phrases
They say the most beautiful phrase in English is ‘cellar door,’ but that’s a phrase I always feel neutral about. For me those words summon nothing. If such a pronouncement could be objective—aesthetics always seems an especially touchy subject for metaphysics—I hope it’s wrong. The thought that the most beautiful phrase in my language rings nothing for me, that it leaves me empty, would be a depressing one could I not just dismiss the transcendental part of the claim.

‘Blog’ is often complained of as an ugly word. Some, such as Language Hat, have looked at the form of the word and don’t see why this word is more ugly than your common household English words. I think that analysis is probably too deep though, missing the thought line of the complainer. ‘Blog’ is ugly because it conjures up both the ugliness of ‘blah’ and the ugliness of ‘bog.’ Thus, the word sounds not like the combination web + log but blah + bog and is ugly.

A phrase I’ve always warmed to is ‘grand piano.’ I thought of this again while reading a segment of Barrett Watten’s The Grand Piano in the preface to the new edition of my uncle’s Tjanting. Perhaps it’s the simple claim of ‘grand,’ kind of like the promotion in the title The Incredible Hulk or The Amazing Spidermanbut without the kitsch. That’s probably it. I like the phrase’s simple declaration of greatness, of authority.

The attraction I have to the phrase can’t have anything to do with grand pianos because I know little about pianos and actually dislike the looks of grand pianos. The things are unshapely—rounded body and raised lid demanding the instrement not fit in any room—and almost always cold. In a shiny black that looks like plastic, a grand piano is starkly less comfortable and inviting than an upright. I’m also fairly certain I liked the phrase before I’d ever seen a grand piano. I have a vauge memory of being a little disgusted with the object, in the way a poor little girl imagines diamonds are purple is disappointed in the lack of color in the real thing.

I like the phrase ‘grand piano’ for reasons of language. If there were no object—if ‘grand piano’ was not a referent to grand piano—I would be actually happier. I like the juxtapositions of sounds: the opening of ‘gr’ leading into the softened ‘an’ to harden again with a d, the soft and airy ‘pi’ and the repetition of ‘an’ leading our to the plain of the solid ‘o.’

Jun 18, 2003

Now that we're alone...

Jun 17, 2003

Originality Arching into Irrelevance
Writing something entirely my own, I am rushed by two emotions:

First, delight at knowing only I could have written this thing and thought that surely genius, if it has a definition, includes originality.

Second, fear my writing is only disguised autobiography, leaving me with the cheap art of telling my story repeatedly.
Outside the Poem
“Dear Joe,
  Some time ago I would have thought that writing notes on particular poems would either be a confession that the poems were totally inadequate (a sort of patch put on a leaky tire) or an equally humiliating confession that the writer was more interested in the terrestrial mechanics of criticism than the celestial mechanics of poetry.”

    –Jack Spicer

Jun 14, 2003

Newspapers are a roaming consciousness.
Questions of Confusion and Complication
An obfuscator is surely one without the merit of intellectualism: he is a fraud passing out words bereft of soul. The obfuscator is hiding, refusing to clarify, for his brilliance is because of the muddle.

It is a cheap crime, but hard to catch.

Charging one with obfuscation is hard, because the thought that you just aren't intelligent enough to understand and are too poor a mind to try hard enough to grasp the tangle of thoughts is a thought always present. It is the obfuscators claim and it is present in your mind and in thoughts of the hearers forming the jury.

For how does one seperate the confusing from the brilliant? At what point does what stop struggling with the complicated and condem it? When can we say that such complication cannot--cannot!--be intelligence and is worthless?

The cry of "mere obfuscation" has often been heard hurled at philosophy. And certainly sophists have always used terms in a great terminological circle to raise confusion and earn bread. But what, functionally, seperates them from the brilliant. Only a few names in philosophy are beyond the charge. The great Greeks, mostly. And we wonder at night if Plato was just a excellent fraud. More than one has dismissed the whole of philosophy on this claim of sophistry and obfuscation.

And how can one ferret the fraud, if indeed a fraud is something less than the whole enterprise.

The fear and the chare is even more present in poetry. We can discard much under the rubric of "an attempt to sound smarter than he is or at least too obscured to be worth reading." And so we lose Dylan Thomas and T.S. Eliot, before we even get to the avant garde or the post avant garde.

In poetry too we find lost the option of "more explaination," for the explained poem is the worst of them. The poet must stand by a code of "it's in the poem and can't be out here in prose," or poetry is worthless. Ought the poem's words be rendered outside of poetry? Then what good is the poem? How should the poem be appreciated if appreciation of the poem isn't poetic?

And how can we know? What line do we draw: this complicated and no more? There is merit in simplicity and brilliance in simplification, but when I tell a badgering fellow I can't explain some philosophical point to him because he hasn't read enough, am I but a bluffing obfuscating fraud? If all of modern philosophy can't be reduced to five minutes to meet the demanded answer to some unread Rationalists, is it hiding in confusion and ambiguity?

If a poem of my isn't understood, am I "pulling one over"? Is it worth understanding? Is there something there? I grant that confusing men isn't a value or a mark of quality. But is it quality and value by necessity found in their understanding either? If it is neither, then what is the reader doing since they are irrelevant?

Drivel, it seems, is neither spawned by complication nor simplicity, but wraps itself in both. Yet, the drivel one knows beyond a suspicion is the drivel one isn't confused by, that one can cut out by being beyond the complicated turns of terminology.

It is only when one is intellectually beyond the obfuscator, unraveling his tangle and showing the flaws and showing that things are more complicated than he has allowed, that one is able to condemn without doubt.

Jun 12, 2003

Books for my 21st:

On Grammatology, by Derrida
Being and Time, by Heidegger
Collected Poems of Williman Carlos Williams, v. I
Tjanting, by Ron Silliman

One can't beat philosophy and poetry.
Lola and Donnie--retelling
Watched two films for my birthday (both one's I've seen before): Run, Lola, Run and Donnie Darko.

I found the similarities between these films striking. In a single viewing they reverberate and speak to each other. Both films tell a story and then retell it, both films deal with death, fear and love and how those are retold. Falling out of the narrative style, both come to talk of fate (standing mostly as death whose only possible conquere is love), time and the unpleasent things of life.

Not to say they are the same. Lola is pretty upbeat and actually pretty easy to get into. A little critical viewing will take a viewer into this move, watching for differences and variances and their ramifcations.

Donnie is challenging and dark--perhaps the darkest film I've seen--in part because it refuses to answer its own questions, makesfun of its questions and openly and violently deconstructs its answers before they are half formed.

And even those answers are tenative and half asked and always already asking and finding themselves unanswered.

Jun 11, 2003

Today, I am 21.
"When all men flinched, then-- he felt sure-- he alone would know how to deal with the spurious menace of wind and seas. He knew what to think of it. Seen dispassionately, it seemed contemptible. He could detect no trace of emotion in himself, and the final effect of a staggering event was that, unnoticed and apart from the noisy crowd of boys, he exulted with fresh certitude in his avidity for adventure, and in a sense of many-sided courage."
Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim.

A present, imaginatively
“I’m gonna take you for a ride in my racecar, when I get one. For your birthday. And in the back of my racecar I’m gonna have my dresser, so I can just pull my clothes out.” –Luke, my 3-year-old brother who claims to be 5.

Jun 10, 2003

Smoked my stuff and drank all my wine:
A review of How the West was Won

The Led Zeppelin’s newly released live album, collected from two California concerts in 1972, is an excellent work with the fire, the pounding and the delicacy of that band all on display with the vibrations of the live performance.

Some live performances are just a ‘the best of’ with a scream track. The better musicians—think Bob Dylan or The Who—have performances that vary and dance to bring the most veteran listener into the music. Zeppelin’s work is of this variety. The music is real and raw on ‘How the West Was Won.’ With Zeppelin, ‘never let them tell you that they’re all the same.’

Zep had a real piece of art going in their concerts.

We’re treated to some flights, with guitar rifts tearing away from the song written down and flying for a while. We even have a 19 minute drum solo named ‘Moby Dick’ where John Bonham shows he’s more than just the rhythm section accompanying talent: he’s beating the earth with the hammers of the gods.

The album’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ shows the difference between a live and studio performance. Here the presence of all four musicians is constant and never fully blended in the polish of the dubbing. The guitar is separate from the drums and the singing and the bass and works with them.

Playing the song as a joint effort, the vocals and the guitar trade places leading the song.

All around an excellent CD that finishes off the band’s body of work with an intelligent effort showing the unrefined glory of Led Zeppelin.

Jun 9, 2003

Gone Mad
Poetry, obviously, stops somewhere and starts somewhere. I just can't find where. The bloody thing being unbounded.

And then I'm not sure why it obviously has borders and how it would make good use of them if they existed.
The women, together,
  bow their heads
      reading the menu.

Jun 7, 2003

Natalya Solzhenitsyn, the wife of author Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, died May 28 at the age of 84.

Tolstoy’s wife wrote and rewrote drafts of War and Peace for her husband. She clearly loved Solzhenitsyn her love did not extend to a devotion to his work.

She inspired his poetry, though it failed to woo her. She forced him to remove female characters from his books, resentful at his affairs and indiscretions. She questioned his non-fiction, and claimed the West put too much authority into his prison recollections and literary investigations.

All of which were probably needful to preserve normalcy, but were harmful to the art.

As someone significantly influenced by the work of Solzhenitsyn—I read the Gulag Archipelago at 15 and it continues to affect the way I view politics and understand humanity—I resent her resentment of his art, yet I understand it.

She loved him and, in many ways, fought for him against his art.

Despite and because of all that, may she rest in peace.
Poppies, the California flower, grow orange ‘gainst Washington green.
The hickory slides through my bitter hands, a handle smooth and worn with labor and weather extending in wood and steel to bite the soil. Uprooting offending weeds, the maddox becomes the symbol of my days.
Cold water crashes over my sweat, rivulets rolling in little falls off my chin.

Jun 5, 2003

Is Slaughterhouse-Five a non-linear writing experiment with a philosophy falling out of the style, or a writing experiment tried because of a philosophy?
Behind the bowling alley, past the arcade games where there were a few guys eyeing each other and guessing at a man’s skill, his game. In the room upstairs, above the bar and grill, someone pretending to be a shark while sinking two balls with a break. A few cigarettes going, quarters in the slots, a beer and a game of eight ball between strangers.

They’re seedy and the tables are almost always uneven and the cue sticks bent, that’s part of the game.

Sometimes a shark is just the guy who knows which way the table dips.

Jun 1, 2003

Walking both ways


Musical pause.

Manifestation is Luciferian.

Testing, testing: one two three.

“Our generation” is fractured, needing the quotation marks.

Disprove Descartes, drunk on French wine and graphing flies flying on the wall.

A bastard of a tribute, these poetics unrecognized by all but the malicious disbelievers, believing in pompous rhymes and violent form.

Form overts with violence, with a marching fascism enveloping signifiers in translations until they are others, and in reduction’s squeeze we are losing language (without a funeral for the passing) replaced with simple form.

He has a fear of dehumanization, a fear of that act of taking away humanity, leaving one alienated, leaving one posthuman, a machine, displacing one from society, losing those rituals that are our humanity because the narrative of your hair standing up in the morning is vital in the definition of you as “human.”

He walked both ways in his cage, that poet, that man who was both progressive and conservative, who was crazy because of Mussolini and because of our sanity—who progressed poetry with the backward strokes of ravings and fascism—who, supporting and subverting canon, begot by rending into creation and he stood in the middle of a rusted cage in European mud, invoking old deviled saints and fathering new hellions with neither the forward nor the backward knowing how to look at the wrinkled man pacing both ways.
Eucharistic Deconstructions
"The Eucharist is blinding, it's so incredible. It's one of the richest, the most extraordinary rituals ever devised. I'm not talking about the belief in it. Just look at it analytically. It smashes all the categories of our culture: all of them. It smashes all the oppositions by which we categorize the world. It takes everything and makes it into one. The difference between here and everywhere is gone, the difference between one and many is gone, the difference between same and different is gone, the difference between meaning and fact is gone, the difference between host and guest is gone, the difference between God and man is gone--all the huge things which are absolutely divided in the experience of the world as we are brought up are smashed.

The mystic experience is one of perceiving a thing and its opposite at the same time, and realizing that black and white are the same. The Eucharist does this in an incredibly sophisticated way. And one of the many, many, many things it does is completely destroy the categorization of food, because it is a vegetarian mean which is also cannibal. And then you have all the poetry and all the ritual. This is mediated by ritual, it has to be--mediated by incredibly complex ritual although it's extremely simple as well--and only eating can do this.

You see, there are two ways in which human beings are brought together most completely. One is by killing them, namely the scapegoat, and one is by eating together. And the Eucharist, of course, is about both. So it's the ultimate uniting thing. But you see how food can say things like that. Only food could do the trick, because it's an outside thing that comes inside. It's one thing that we all share. We all eat it; we all become one. Human beings have been going on about food and its meaning since we were squatting around fires in caves. It's the great metaphor." - Margaret Visser
Seattle poetry readings.