20060518

Epigraph

So much in Barthes on the fragment and on the journal: my preferred forms:
"His first, or nearly first text (1942) consists of fragments; this choice is then justified in the Gidean manner 'because incoherence is preferable to a distorting order'" (93).

Incoherence is preferable to a distorting order!
This might serve as my epitaph.

This preference, so strong in me, does not reveal an affinity for incoherence (which I usually hold to be contemptible) so much as an affinity (or yearning) for an order that is not distorted, and an aversion to the point of violent repugnance to having any part in the imposition of an order that is false, distorted.

The Dream of the Perfect Book

I was sleeping at my uncle's house in Hookwood when I had the dream of the perfect book. Page after page, it was written expressly for me. It was, in fact, the perfect mirror of my own mind laid out for my eyes to read, in words that captured everything with unfailing and comprehensive precision. The author of this perfect book, in my dream that night, was none other than God, though this went without saying, the unerring conclusion to which my dreaming mind leapt. The existence of the book proved the existence of God, and in my dream I somehow became aware that when I awoke all I would have to do is transcribe the pages that appeared to me in my dream and I would have successfully authored the perfect book myself, proving the existence of God by a kind of mystical calculus and simultaneously establishing myself as not only an author, but as the most significant author of my time, of all time, even.

I awoke from the dream in the night feeling wonderful and excited, and blessed that I had had such a dream. I knew that I should take up pen and paper immediately.

But it was dark, and my bed was comfortable. And there was some complicating feature of the perfect book in my dream. It seemed that God had written it in a mosaic of cut-out bits of newsprint, fonts all haphazard. Somehow, at various points in the book, or in the center of the book, certain words or phrases or sentences spoke to me, letting me know that they were meant for me. There was something tricky and magical about this, and I realized even in my sleepy state that the certainty I had felt about being able simply to transcribe the pages I had seen was itself just another part of the dream.

Stormcloud of Unknowing

Barthes is right and wrong when he asserts that writing "by refusing to assign a 'secret,' an ultimate meaning, to the text (and to the world as text), liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity, an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases--reason, science, law."

This "truly revolutionary" activity of refusing to fix meaning is anti-theological and is a refusal of "God and his hypostases--reason, science, law"...yes and yes again (for what he says here is eminently comprehensible). BUT, I see the revolutionary activity of refusing to fix meaning as even more radical.

We collect what data we can, as reliably as we can, sensitive to the relative position of the observer, sensitive to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. We collect and do not deliberately alter or invent data that is then presented as unaltered and collected.

We do not fix meaning, for to fix meaning would be to assert that we know more than we possibly know (to assert, in short, that all of the data is in). We may hypothesize, theorize, fantasize all we like about the meaning of the data that we have collected (and why not? it is a joy for some and bears fruitful yield of further data and data caches). But we do not forget that fixity of meaning is proscribed by relativity and by the immmensity and unpredictability of uncollected data in space and time.

We true revolutionaries of the twenty first century refuse those "hypostases--reason, science, law" in order to recover those other hypostases, the truer fundamentals of our relative position with regard to everything else: that there is an immensity and unpredictability of uncollected data in a space-time that is itself either infinite or not yet finally calculable.

In the context of these fundamentals--immensity, incalculability, and unknowing--the so-called "hypostases" of reason, science, and law, God and theology, along with all other human inventions, are brought into the sharp light of recollection, and crumble to dust, their spurious fixity broken and shattered.

We refuse to fix meaning, because we do not have either the scope or the tools necessary to fix it. We collect and we theorize, letting our imaginations play without forgetting that it is play.

Sometimes we may imagine that there is someone who holds together in a single field all the traces, all of the bits and fragments of data, by which the world as text (and the written text) is constituted. And sometimes we may imagine that there is no single field that can hold it all together, that only a plurality of fields can hold it all. And other times we may imagine that it all simply cannot be held, that some of it (though not this fallen catbird, in this particular icebox) is thrown out in handfuls, fleeting, uncollected, irrecoverable.

We float, as Barthes dreamt of floating. And yet we are not without fundament and underpinning, we have our hypostases: a secure sense of our own relativity contained within immensity, incalculability, and the tremendous stormcloud of unknowing. There is a faith here and a fundamentalism: our eyes open, an umbrella at hand.

The Allure of the Fragment

I am not sure that we have access to true order except via careful observation of the minutiae that compose history and individual experience alike. Nor am I sure that even such careful observation gives us the ability to compass, comprehend, present, express the order to which it gives us access. Careful observation gives us fragments of a whole, or only just fragments--the shattered facets of perception--and the whole is only the figment of our yearning. I cannot be sure, I would like to believe, I will not represent my desire as an order. Even short of the ripple-effect that might result from such an act of distortion, I risk missing something by dedicating myself to the composition of such an order. Hence the allure, the trick, of the fragment. I can get it down between glances. I can leave off at a moment's notice. I can signify without insisting on the magnitude of my significance, accept that I am a feature in the landscape without inflating my prominence.

20050729

The Park in Inclement Weather

A light rain was beginning to come down as I arrived home from work yesterday evening. I dropped off my stuff, picked up my hat and raincoat and got all the way out of my workaday world by taking the few steps that get me to the shore of the lake.

The park is at its best in inclement weather--the birds and I have the whole place to ourselves. I wander, I pause, I look and look again. Body and mind explore unfamiliar twists and turns. Reverie.

The OED does not link the word etymologically to the French for to dream. Instead, to a different use of the French verb, this one meaning: "to revel, act or speak wildly." In English, reverie is "a state of joy or delight" (now obsolete or rare)--"wantonness," "wildness," "a state of anger or irritation," "violent or rude language," "noise, din"--all obsolete. What it comes down to now: "a fit of abstracted musing; a 'brown study' or day-dream; the fact, state, or condition of being lost in thought or engaged in musing."

There was something of the now obsolete meanings of the word still quite alive in my Prospect Park reverie. Engaged in musing, certainly--but with a piquant element of wantonness, wildness.

Thought is domesticated by the urban environment. In the park, I make a point of stepping off the paved pathways. I cross grassy hummocks, climb over the roots of trees, weave my own way along the shore of the lake. All week long I have traveled in straight lines and right angles on hard surfaces laid out and too often trod by others. The domestication of the body and the domestication of the mind are one. In my reverie, I go a little wild.

It's an easy enough freedom to assert with the park so close at hand, on a rainy day when there are no other walkers to keep me in some kind of line by the presence of their own conformity to or divagation from the designated paths.

In my reverie what I find is perspective in the graphic sense of the word. As I made my way around the lake, and out along the peninsula, following a course I had never followed before, I stopped often to look in all directions--not just the ground ahead, but the ground I had already covered. From the most extreme point of the peninsula I looked back at my own neighborhood shore and found the tree where I like to sit at the end of the day, nearly invisibly from this vantage point, I can see. The storm was travelling fast, and the wind on the lake was strong and rising. The absurd tour boat, its bow into the wind, strained at its mooring and this little lake in the middle of the city was become a wild place. Almost invisible under the trees, and making only the most fleeting appearance in their history, and yet I was somehow in touch with an immensity, an enduring and living immensity: the object of, but never subject to, human efforts to describe.

Such a relief to be able to find the uncontainable world so close at hand. Such a tremendous relief to put the human back into scale--all of the fuss and bother, torture and mayhem, down to size and blown hard by a wind that wraps its way around the universe and will not ever cease.

No Still Point

Some conversation about ecstasy. Movement toward the other. The illusory nature of stasis in a universe in which science can detect no still point. From subatomic particle to beyond the sun in our sky, all is motion. Stasis is a convention. Ecstasy is a realignment wioth reality, a recovery of the distinct shiftiness that each of us inhabits, as opposed to the stable norm to which we pretend. The movement, from illusory stasis to the realignment of ex-stasis, is the fundamental triangulation of individuality, free will, being, etc.

January 1941

The Sunday Times is so full of horrors each Sunday that going through it is like being caught in a huge iron mechanical mangle.--Thomas Merton

Global Struggle for Peaceful Extremism

In June 1940, Thomas Merton wrote:

I do know this much: that the knowledge of what is going on only makes it seem desperately important to be voluntarily poor, to get rid of all possessions this instant. I am scared, sometimes, to own anything, even a name, let alone a coin, or shares in the oil, the munitions, the airplane factories. I am scared to take a proprietary interest in anything, for fear that my love of what I own may be killing somebody somewhere.(231-32)

We are all so inextricably wrapped up in the killing--even the monks in their institutionally-endowed cells in the forests and in the hills. This is, for me, the most real and tangible meaning of original sin. From birth, in our innocence, we are fed upon death and suffering. The fruit-pickers who live as slaves, the cows that are reared and slaughtered in suffering, the corporations that trickle down to us our abundance from the hoards they have pillaged. We are all stained with cruelty and injustice. Even lifetimes devoted to atonement have not yet changed this enough.

But this does not mean that we can all throw up our hands in resignation--and go on buying the products of exploited laborers and the SUV's made for and by pigs of consumption and greed. No. We must exercise what free will we have and bend it toward atonement and change--even in the face of our confidence and fear that our efforts will be without effect. If prayer comes into this at all, it comes in only when we have bent and stretched our free will as far as we can in a daily effort simply to live without adding, even in the least of ways, to that total of death and suffering upon which we are fed. When we have done that, and see at the end of the day that it has not yet been enough, then some of us may pray for enough strength to go at it again the next day.

We are all weak-willed and mortal. The trick in acknowledging weakness of will is not to shrug it off and think, oh well, I'm just like everyone else, or I'm not so bad as some others. The trick is to feel all the awful weight of that weakness, and to live as best as we can in the clear knowledge of each of the ways in which our circumstances compel us to feed upon suffering and death, without forgiving or condemning ourselves or each other too quickly or too certainly. Whether a figure of the imagination or not, God is the name that we give to the creature that can forgive or condemn infallibly. No wonder that God is dead or dying in a world of humans who have taken it so enthusiastically to self-forgiveness and self-condemnation. If I am not so ready to forgive myself for weakness, then I will try to be stronger and less self-indulgent in my reaching for righteousness. And if I am not so quick to condemn myself to a hell in which the least deft athletic stretch of will is never what makes a difference, then I will make every move with enthusiasm.

20050708

Abyssus abyssum invocat

Gorodish

20050609

Element

When I woke up in Guadalajara for the first time, Pepe had raised the shades and prepared the coffee and it was three o'clock in the afternoon. The unmooring of ordinary chronology was a sensuous delight.

Also delicious to me are those occasions when, while traveling and sometimes even while at home, I awake in the night and--for a long moment that I, reveling in it, try to protract--I lie there not knowing how the bed is oriented within the room where I am sleeping or, even more deliciously, not knowing where the room is, where I am at all. I lie there in an utterly mysterious darkness, my location unknown and irrelevant, utterly comfortable, and slip down again into the void of sleep without bothering to make the effort to place myself. Off the clock, off the map, wholly unfettered by the strictures of the familiar: this is where I have felt most at home.

In my element: running into the pitch blackness with the wind on my face.
Surrey c. 1750

20050607

Train Travel

The diary form as analagous to train travel: bemused momentarily by a perspective through a window, the evocation of associations and possibilities framed for a moment before slipping away into a comparatively undifferentiated stretch of grassy fields with a row of cypresses, perhaps, marking a parallel roadway, the mind clinging through that stretch to its own unmapped trajectory through the associations and possibilities framed moments before. And then, the approach sudden and unexpected, the window brings scrolling into perspective a fresh departure point for a different near infinity of universes.

20050601

Blinded & Annihilated: Homage to a Dying Replicant

The things these eyes have seen...the dying replicant's monologue in the climactic moments of Blade Runner marks with this synecdoche, in proper keeping with its machine nature, a distinction between the sensory orbs and the ephemeral self that both retains their data and values it as the delimiting coordinates of singular and irreplicable experience.

What these eyes have seen...the rugged and overgrown surface of the ancient Roman road, la ruta de plata, the silver road, on the southern outskirts of Salamanca, just a few yards east of the modern highway, stretching on through the grass and trees to the horizon. Stones and seascapes and hundreds of thousands of pages of data gathered, processed, and encoded by other ephemeral selves. The ordering principle of this filter has been to open the aperture wide, until the eye is blinded and annihilated by light. I, blinded and annihilated by light...
...
What these eyes have seen...the gray whale, too close to the boat, breaking the surface only yards outside the breakwater in Los Angeles, flying fish, phosphorescence, and porpoises without number in feeding frenzy with air support by brown pelicans and waves of sea lion reinforcements crashing and arching their way in from all directions.
...
These eyes have seen...volumes. What is written, encoded here, is only a gesture standing in for perimeter and range. The boundaries between one voyage out and the next are permeable, the distinction between living somewhere and only visiting is wholly obliterated by time. I am alive, a visitor. What these eyes see is what is before them, and when they are blinded it is by what has come before them.

20050526

Divisus sum in partes.

I haven't been back to Spain since 1996, though between 1989 and that final visit I did not miss a year, and between 1992 and 1994 I barely spent any time at all in the United States. Spain was my spiritual home, I was going native and was hellbent on it. It is behind me now, that wrecking urge. There are pangs: I talk to myself now and then in castellano, my tongue slips against my teeth to form words, disjointed, out of context, the sound and feeling of them quietly alive in me. Susceptible, joder, érase una vez... There is a world asleep inside of me. Covadonga. I went, I saw, I conquered and I came all to pieces. Divisus sum in partes.
...
Syntax, grammar, the traditional frontiers between languages themselves, all must give way: a scattershot of communication. Punctuate the impossibility of capture. All a slip in the multi-stream of singularity. Reign it in again to provide. The formation of a writer was something to be taken seriously, a poetic license to anything. Flight, dismay, and sound.
...
Do we believe in cause and effect? Does experience take root in us, fertile soil, and grow? What is the geneaology of an identity? Remember: Socrates was an outlaw.

20050525

We had the moon.

A small footpath is all the communication by land between one village and another on the side along which we passed for upwards of thirty miles. We entered upon this path about noon, and owing to the steepness of the banks, were soon unmolested by the sun, which illuminated the woods rocks and villages of the opposite shore. The lake is narrow and the shadows of the mountains were early thrown across it. It was beautiful to watch them travelling up the sides of the hills for several hours, to remark one half of a village covered with shade, and the other bright with the strongest sunshine. It was with regret that we passed every turn of this charming path, where every new picture was purchased by the loss of another which we would never have been tired of gazing at. The shores of the lake consist of steeps covered with large sweeping woods of chestnut spotted with villages, some clinging from the summits of the advancing rocks, and others hiding themselves within their recesses. Nor was the surface of the lake less interesting than its shores; part of it glowing with the richest green and gold the reflexion of the illuminated woods and part shaded with a soft blue tint. The picture was still further diversified by the number of sails which stole lazily by us, as we paused in the woods above them. After all this we had the moon.--W.W. to D.W. Sept. 6th and 16th, 1790. Keswi.
Richard Warner, A Walk Through Wales, in August 1797

William Wordsworth's shoes?

Van Gogh

20050524

Continuity, Orbit, Cataclysm

A continuous narrative creates a false sense of stability, of stagnation in, or immunity to, the passage of time. The reader knows, of course, that time is passing while the narrative is read. And one of the key features of the continuous narrative is its representation of the passage of time: its compression of a large (sometimes immense) stretch of time into the smaller stretch of time needed to read, or, though somewhat less often, its expansion of a small (sometimes minute) stretch of time into a longer stretch of time needed to read. In either case, though time is a feature (and in some cases even the subject) what is absent from the continuous narrative is the ever-advancing timeframe and the inevitably (if sometimes minutely) shifting perspective of the composer of the illusory continuity. This is what the journal form, the fragment, present: disclosing something about the nature of that illusion.
...
The traveler's awareness of the nature of continuity in a world of change can become especially acute. The continuity in this traveler's experience is something like a gravitational force that holds certain celestial bodies together in a kind of elastic suspension. Planets orbit and rotate at varying speeds, yet their mutual influence holds them within the limits of a specific range that remains relatively constant, short of such disruptive cataclysms as naturally occur from time to time, altering the order of things.
...
The bright orange hot sauce, red-flecked, brought back to Oakland from a voyage amongst the Grenadines. Flavorful and hot well beyond the ordinary range of experience. Dave, in his kitchen, compact and strong-fisted, stepping up very close: it made him want to punch somebody. Hard.

20050523

Degrees of Succulence

Bocadillos portátiles, inesperados. A small mouthful, portable and unexpected. Much of the appeal of travel stems from the revitalization of the primordial hunter-gatherer that is genetically encoded within us, in some more distinctly than in others. The satisfaction of hunger is an ordering event. A purpose that arises naturally, the ingenuity and discovery that its resolution often requires while traveling put the traveller in touch with his elemental, animal nature in such a way as to distinguish, precisely, what it is to be human while maintaining the proximity to animal being that the most elevated degree of perception absolutely requires.

We emerged from the immense, packed, and throbbing house music club a few hours short of dawn and stepped out into a sidestreet that was more crowded than it would be at any other time of day, to feel with sudden acuteness that lusty pang of hunger known best to late night merrymakers. Satisfaction was immediate. My madrileño companions shared none of my surprise, and therefore only a lesser degree of gratification, when the helmeted rider dismounted from his moped immediately across the narrow street in front of us, opened the hard plastic pannier that was mounted on the rear and began to sell freshly made bocadillos to the late night crowd, ourselves first among them. Queso manchego and sliced tomatoes on long loaves of perfect bread: the bocadillo seemed a thing designed for late night, two-wheeled delivery. Not a whit short of perfect flavor and freshness of justly proportioned ingredients, yet how many greater degrees of succulence were derived from the placing and timing of it all, from the unexpectedness of this excellent quarry?

20050518

Madrid

Un niño muy movido

Movida is a participle form of the verb mover ("to move"), and it has an entry of its own in the María Moliner, from which I translate here: applies to a photograph in which the figures are blurred (confusas) on account of having moved during the exposure; applies to an active and restless person (un niño muy movido). The Moliner provides some secondary, and foreign, definitions as well: an egg preparation in Chile; a child skeletally deformed from birth in Guatemala and Honduras.

La movida madrileña no sucedió nunca

In the summer of 1995, contemplating another possible writing project, I popped into a bookstore in Prosperidad (my home neighborhood in Madrid) to see what had already been written about la movida madrileña. I knew better than to try to find anything on my own (Spanish bookstores are not in the least bit user-friendly: the books tend to be out of reach, high up or behind counters, and they also tend to be completely indistinguishable from one another, as a mass: in Spain, if you were to judge a book by its cover, you'd be justified in believing that if you've read one, you've read them all).

So anyway, I approached the store owner and made my inquiry directly. His response was that there was no such thing as la movida madrileña. Knowing that I had not invented the term, I pressed him. "So what was there?" "Pues, nada. Eramos jóvenes." We were young, he told me, and then we got older and stopped going out so much. He was convinced,from his own firsthand experience of the early to mid-eighties, and perhaps not unreasonably, that what some called, or had called, la movida madrileña was nothing more than a youthful club scene, the first of its kind in Spain perhaps, but typical, insignificant, and of a kind nonetheless. I left the bookstore empty-handed but with a broadened perspective.

20050514

The Impossibility of Return

Definitive food: the champiñones a la plancha at a bar just outside the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Upturned on the small plate, scorchingly hot, their cups filled with hot olive oil, garlic, and parsley.

As soon as I crossed the border at Irún, to begin my second visit to Spain, my body propelled me through the streets in search of these. I never found them, not there in Irún, not when I went back to Madrid’s Plaza Mayor (the bar itself seemed to be gone), and not in any of the subsequent seven years of returns to and residences in Spain. I tried to replicate them on the grill here in the kitchen in Brooklyn the other night, and came closer than I’ve been, but still not quite there. I eventually found champiñones in Irún that evening, at a crowded and likely seeming bar near the train station, but they were stewed in a broth (chicken broth, to my vegetarian horror!) and, though tasty, were not at all the same.

So, of the first moments of that long-awaited first return to Spain, I retain this watery memory of disappointment, of a return that was impossible. The more piercing memories that define those first moments of return are visual and linguistic and epic. Emerging from the station and heading down a crowded sidewalk slanting towards the sea, a rapid flap and flash of white and gray, a blaring car horn, people turning and turning away, an oncoming woman in front of me stopped in her tracks, her definitive cry ¡ay! ¡la palomita! entering straight into my ears gathering significance even as the sight entered my eyes: the wounded pigeion flapping helplessly at my feet, white and gray and, I now saw, red and broken wing. The singularity of this, the shock shared with all the passersby, never before and never since have I seen a pigeon hit by a car.

And then, mushroom-fed and my ears still ringing with that clarity of comprehension, weeks and weeks of cottonheadedness in France and Italy now at an end, I bought El País at the news stand in the station and delighted in my eyes’ ready passage over the text while waiting for the train that would take me on to Madrid. El País, because that was the paper that bound me to my personal history in Spain, that linked me to liberalism, to the transcendence of education’s shortcomings, to transgression. I had crossed the frontier, and had only just begun to understand that return is an illusion.

20050513

Language & the Plurality of the Self

My friend Fernando of Salamanca once told me, quoting someone, that el que habla dos idiomas pierde su alma--he who speaks two languages loses his soul. I don't remember the exact context...we were on the street somewhere, or in a smoky bar, or in his even smokier living room: the scenes of the many peripatetic dialogues I enjoyed with him over the course of a couple of years. Fernando himself, his soul quite intact, spoke only his native castellano. My one-time confessor, his remark contained, I think, both a smidgen of linguistic envy and a dollop of censorious comprehension of my divided state.

Taking the soul to be emblem and essence of the self, the loss of the soul that may fairly be said to accompany the acquisition of a second language is the acquisition, discovery, or recognition of an alternative self. and thence of the possibility of a multiplicity of alternative selves, in combination with a dawning and irreversible alienation from the context that defined the original self.

Having undergone some travails to become fluent in Spanish and at ease in Spain, I nonetheless, as an American and native English speaker, remained an outsider in Spain. In turn, my Spanishness sealed and certified my outsider status in America.

The discovery of the plurality and insurmountable alterity of the self, this loss of soul narrowly understood, does not require the acquisition of a second language, however. For this discovery, it is enough to become conscious of the fact that we already speak more than one language, that in fact we may speak as many different languages as there are contexts and interlocutors. And if there are any of us who somehow remain monolingual, it can only be from lack of circulation and go hand in hand with a general failure to comprehend (to take in). The loss of such a soul, of that monolingual singular self, is no cause for lament.

20050512

d2

quoting Ballard again:

"The arts and criminality have always flourished side by side."
--from Cocaine Nights

Acedia, Memory, Replenishment

A significant aspect of my consciousness as traveler was often the sense of myself as a writer in the making. The richest moments of experience were doubled by the sense that they were not just being appreciated in the present, but that they were also adding to an ever-deepening reservoir from which I would draw in the future.

But the reservoir has become unfathomable and in these still moments of acedia the stored waters do not so much sustain me as remind me that the rate of their replenishment has, for the time being, slowed. I drink of my memories again and again, my thirst only increases. That reservoir, that hope of sustenance: a mirage.
...
For the long still stretches without hard and sudden rains, without border crossings and transgressions that turn all order on its dusty head, there are other survival strategies for the spiritless and footsore pilgrim. The year and a half I spend working in a kitchen in Kansas was a long haul across the desert if ever there was one, however voluntary. What I had then, what saw me through, were the emptiness and quiet of the pre-dawn darkness, the daily rituals. I remember them now: sitting in stillness for a half an hour upon rising, the drive to the restaurant, crossing the empty parking lot (15 degrees one morning, the fresh snow crunching and glittering beneath my kitchen besmottered sneakers), the key in the door, the ovens turned on, the bacon pans and the heavy potato pans in, five quiet minutes outside the back door with an apple for breakfast and a mental bow to the sunrise in all weather, in the afternoon a long solitary walk in the prairie. Listening hard, trying to make every gesture a prayer, a meditation. There would be an end to the desert and I knew it, however remote it seemed, however impossible to believe I'd ever reach it.

20050405

Transgression & Travel

Transgression (from Latin trans-, across and gradior, to step): the radical traveler, origin, fundament, and root, discovers that the walls and frontiers are everywhere, inside and out, and that stepping across them is a matter of compulsion or pluck.

Transgression is the business of travel, and the air of moral opprobrium carried by the word wafts out, fetid and depleted, from the dark and narrow dens of the (often obese and single-texted) self-imprisoned. There are boundaries and then there are boundaries...an aware traveler may learn to distinguish amongst them, while the stagnant ones are held in line by whichever of them happen to be most proximate.

20050402

Monet

20050401

Short of Infinite

Something, somewhere, ought to be written about the best of the travelling companions. It was one of these who pointed out to me, in the midst of a morning walk along the white-pebbled beach at Étretat that the most stunning thing about the small round stones of which the beach was composed in its entirety, from one end to another, was that, however innumerable, their number was nonetheless substantially short of infinite.

Everything, in its moment, numbered and accounted for.

20050331

Sunday in the Park

Dogwood

20050330

The Biomass of History

Somewhere I read that in terms of biomass the tiny ant is by far the dominant species of the planet. That thing that steals the name of History is only a fine thread, strung and restrung, through the signifying event beads of a single species. The biomass of history, its unseen and forgotten weight, consists of that nearly but emphatically not infinite ocean of beads that are the private memorials, the ringing flashes and gleams, long deserts and minute features, relative significances, incoherences. That false, and too exclusively human, thing that steals the name of History is a distorted order.

20050329

"Humbler and More Private Memorials"

In his 1825 review of the recently deciphered diaries of Samuel Pepys, Francis Jeffrey appreciates that "those minute details...which History has so often rejected as below her dignity, are indispensable to give life, certainty, or reality to her delineations; and we should have little hesitation in asserting, that no history is really worth any thing, unless it relate to a people and an age of which we have also those humbler and more private memorials."

Francis Jeffrey

20050328

Neighbors (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Black-crowned Night Heron

Shelving Habits

I have amused myself in my last two apartments by storing all of my books on theology, spirituality, and mind-altering substances together on the same shelves. None of my guests has ever noticed this without my pointing it out, but for me the continuity of the subject matter is as plain as day. Meditation, God, spirituality, the altered mind state achieved via some ingestible or another (from wine to marijuana to LSD)-each of these treats of ecstasy. Some will be quicker than others to insist that there is a difference, that there is something irresponsible about putting these things on the same shelf, or even that ecstasy is not as essentially an affiliate of the spiritual matter as it is of the chemical. They are right to varying degrees, of course, and I would not be comfortable if my capacity for responsibility were to be judged by my quirky shelving habits. But similarity, loosely perceived, is not an uncommon place to begin a closer examination of things.

20050327

The Anthropocene Era

From "The Climate of Man--III," Elizabeth Kolbert's article in this week's issue of The New Yorker (May 9):

"A few years ago, in an article in Nature, the Dutch chemist Paul Crutzen coined a term. No longer, he wrote, should we think of ourselves as living in the Holocene, as the period since the last glaciation is known. Instead, an epoch unlike any of those which preceded it had begun. This new age was defined by one creature--man--who had become so dominant that he was capable of altering the planet on a geological scale. Crutzen, a Nobel Prize winner, dubbed this age the Anthropocene. He proposed as its starting date the seventeen-eighties, the decade in which james Watt perfected his steam engine and, inadvertently. changed the history of the earth."

20050326

Neighbors (Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica)

20050324

Remarks on Neighbors

Out the front door of our building, and down the street to the shore of Prospect Park Lake. Door to water's edge: 1 minute travelling time (I could count the paces). This is not quite the Pacific Ocean's edge in Playa Del Rey or Marina Del Rey...but it has some element of that...enough to recollect the state of mind. If I stand on the very edge of the water, the same sort of meditative absorption occurs.

Last night, moments after sunset, enormous high clouds, brilliant white and glowing all pink beneath. Colors and wind patterns on the water. The trees in all their new green. Some other souls, like myself, alone in contemplation on the shoreline.

A new kind of birdwatching...not seeking the as-yet-unseen, but studying the already known. The great egret lands and strides toward a perch on a fallen log, all of the resting mallards scatter loudly into the water, yielding the space in plain awareness of that predatory beak.

Ducks in layers of circles of light.
Red-winged blackbirds chucking at each other. Vivid stripe of yellow.
First soaring barn swallow of the season.
All this within a minute.

20050323

Neighbors (Canada Goose, Branta canadensis)

20050322

Neighbors (Great Egret, Ardea Alba)

20050321

Neighbors (Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus)

20050320

Prospect Park

Prospect Park

To go to town, I enter the park at Vanderbilt Street (bottom left) and angle my way upwards to 9th Street or 3rd Street (off Prospect Park West, mid-to upper left). The easy walk is along Well House Drive, crossing the Nethermead, over Quaker Hill, then across the Long Meadow. For a more strenuous walk and for panoramic views of the Lake, I can begin by climbing Lookout Hill.

To go to market, at Pumpkins, I just walk up West Lake Drive and then leave the Park at Bartel Pritchard Circle.

20050319

Prospect Park

Prospect Park

20050317

d2

quoting j.g. ballard in an e-mail sent on 4/20:

on the beach:

all the most interesting things in the world take place where the sea meets the land and you’re between those two states of mind. on that border zone, you’re neither one nor the other, you’re both. and people take their clothes off, which is always a plus.

on los angeles:

“what would it cost to die here?” i asked the receptionist. she wasn’t fazed for a second. “it depends – what sort of death did you have in mind?”

20050314

Prospect Park

Two afternoons in Prospect Park this week.

There's a tree at the edge of the lake, with a root that is just about right for sitting. So, I sat there as the long rays of the end of the day made the reeds on the far shore golden. Movement of Branta canadensis. Fulica americana. The arrival of Ardea alba (the great egret) on a nearby trunk that jutted out over the water. Wind patterns of black and silver on the lake's surface. Vital to take time to take note. To dissolve into this. Sudden flight and feather cleansings, the end of a day in springtime.

20050313

Atienza

20050312

Aeolus

I often imagine a lifetime's trove of writings from all of my various travels. Sifting through them would be like going through a heap of magically three-dimensional photographs, granting me access not just to the sights, but to the sounds, the smells, the tastes, and the thoughts of every richly textured moment portrayed. Dazzling, fascinating: a feast for the senses. There is no such trove. Much writing has been thrown away, in some transitional purge or other. Much was never written in the first place.

Durrell's Pursewarden insisted that the artist "must catch every scrap of wind." I had no trouble taking this to heart, as it was already in residence there. What has always baffled me...what Pursewarden never bothered to explain...is how to produce some art without letting some scraps of wind go by uncaught. Most often, I've elected to make my art the ephemeral one, the wheeling and lunging, the catching at wind. But where do I hold it once I've got it? I am long since filled to capacity and overflowing. Still I wheel and lunge.

Settled in one place for a spell and the wind takes on recognizable patterns, easier to catch. Snatches of time and space open up between moves. If I train my attention just right, I can just manage to get in a word or two, whole sentences in the lapse of a gathering minute. The present holding steady with the future coming on fast: two long-planned weeks in easternmost Maine and a dozen other foreseen eventualities beforehand: a multitude of gusts and then a sustained blast. And all the while the Doppler past howling down into the tunnel, spinning and howling there, not quite disappearing.

Aeolus, I reach into the gusty bag and pull out a picture, a memory, a continuity. What is adventure? What comes to mind? What defines the preciousness of a mere scrap that it must be retained against the universe's howling forces of dispersal? The hard and sudden rain scuppering down from the medieval rooftops in Atienza, dashing for the shelter of the restaurant at the mid-afternoon dinner hour: chuletas and vino tinto, the impossibly affordable bill scribbled on torn butcher paper from the tabletop. Hiking up to the ruined castle in sunshine as hard and sudden with my friend and guide. Knowing then (1984) that these were scraps to retain, every one of them. Having only retained these and a sodden feeling of loss: the name of the restaurant? the flavor and texture of the food in my mouth? I see Pepe's beard across the table, the ceramic carafe, my practiced brain creates the rushing and pounding of heavy summer rain on the cobblestones outside...all the rest, caught and held and cherished in its quick passage, now gone away again, irrecoverable. What are the rules for this longer retention?

20050311

Arco San Juan

20050310

Breakage: travel as moral principle

Interruption, disruption: these may be the chief phenomena of travel, and what make it so desirable to some and to others so detestable. At the root of both phenomena is breakage (from the Latin _rumpere_, to break). Etymologically speaking, the different charge of these prefixes (inter: between, dis: from the Greek for "two": implying separation, even reversal) is impossible to pinpoint with confidence, the weight of that "breakage" to which they are affixed annihilates their distinction. What matters is that something is broken, divided, split asunder. Corrupt is essentially the same word and has come to bear with it all of the language's moral fury at breakage, all of the conservative prejudice in favor of the whole. But what is it that is broken, so delightedly by some and only unwillingly by others? I write with the bias of a life dedicated to travel as a moral principle: it is the false idol that we cast down and shatter. The breakage embraced by the righteous traveler (even without leaving the kitchen chair) is nothing short of the shattering of an attachment to an illusion, to maya.

Once that illusion has been broken, interrupted, disrupted, corrupted, what remains? Memories and projections: shards of an imaginary wholeness that have all of and their only vitality in the attention that is yielded to them. And besides those memories and projections? The immanence, the vitality, bursting through the portals of our senses: there is a blue sky in Brooklyn this morning and the light on a spider filament stretching across the window, with every shifting breeze, reminds me that, even though it is minute to the point of near invisibility, the difference between what is there and what is not there is the only absolute to which I can hope to have any access.

20050309

Location, Jefferson, Dissipation

Where am I at any given moment? It's impossible to keep track over the course of an entire day...but in the space of thirty minutes in my chair here in this Brooklyn kitchen I have been kayaking on Nauset lagoon in Cape Cod, lying in the top bunk of a compartment on an overnight train from Vienna to London looking out the window at the wintry countryside around Salzburg, on an evening street in Siracusa dreading the next batch of wolfish leers at my blond American traveling companion, and catching the heart-swelling aroma of a young woman's freshly shampooed (still wet!) hair as she passed me on a street in the shadow of the old coliseum at Arles.

Thankfully, I do not always travel so far or so fast while seated in my kitchen, there was just something busy in me this morning. In a 1787 letter of advice written to the young Peter Carr, Thomas Jefferson wisely observed that, after a certain point, the effect of travel is a scattering, a dissipation of energy. He wrote from experience...probably imagining what he might have accomplished, what projects he might have realized, if he hadn't himself been scattered...with (multiple) homes on two continents.

Jefferson to Carr:

"Travelling. This makes men wiser, but less happy. When men of sober age travel,m they gather knowledge which they may apply usefully for their country, but they are subject ever after to recollections mixed with regret, their affections are weakened by being extended over more objects, & they learn new habits which cannot be gratified when they return home. Young men who travel are exposed to all these inconveniences in a higher degree, to others still more serious, and do not acquire that wisdom for which a previous foundation is requisite by repeated & just observations at home. The glare of pomp & pleasure is analogous to the motion of their blood, it absorbs all their affection & attention, they are torn from it as from the only good in this world, and return to their home as to a place of exile and condemnation. Their eyes are for ever turned back to the object they have lost, & it's recollection poisons the residue of their lives. Their first & most delicate passions are hackneyed on unworthy objects here, & they carry home only the dregs, insufficient to make themselves or anybody else happy. Add to this that a habit of idleness, an inability to apply themselves to business is acquired & renders them useless to themselves & their country. These observations are founded in experience. There is no place where your pursuit of knowledge will be so little obstructed by foreign objects as in your own country, nor any wherein the virtues of the heart will be less exposed to be weakened. Be good, be learned, & be industrious, & you will not want the aid of travelling to render you precious to your country, dear to your friends, happy within yourself. I repeat my advice to take a great deal of exercise, & on foot. Health is the first requisite after morality."

20050308

Old Siracusa

20050307

What It Pleases Me to Write

Barthes writes: "If he often foresees books to write (which he does not write) it is because he postpones until later what bores him. Or rather, he wants to write _right away_ what it pleases him to write, and not something else." Yes and yes. And what bores me is often the prospect of tracing an already foreseen path, the getting down in writing of something already thought, the prospect of a writing that is not a discovery, that is not somehow contingent upon the moment of the writing. This final bit, this aspect of contingency, folds over into Barthes's desire "to write _right away_ what it pleases him to write." I incline toward the journal, the fragment, leaving the book projects only foreseen and never executed, because I do not like cutting myself off from immanence, from the vitality of the moment in which I am putting pen to page. Behind the formulation of the sentence, this sentence, is the humming of the refrigerator that has just turned its noisy self on again, the hammering and sawing of a neighbor's renovation project, the afternoon of exercise and errands that I have ahead of me, the awareness of this ephemeral space for writing that I am carving out for myself, the rich smell of wet earth and vegetation that links this morning's Brooklyn kitchen to other moist spring mornings, to quiet walks in grassy country. None of this background is the point...it is easy enough to ignore in order to remain focused on the generation of this particular thought. But the background, the borders of this space for writing, are indispensable to it, to me, and I am acutely aware that at any given moment the focus will shift, the background and the task will merge, the minutia will become event and subject matter: the imperceptible transition of a spring morning into a spring afternoon. The journal, the fragment, permit me to remain attentive to that immanence, that shift, to remain connected to that vitality. The fragment permits the attention to cut away at a moment's notice. To pick up again later, or not. The fragment is equally prepared to drop away as inessential, anomalous, or to become recognized as leitmotif. The fragment is the writer's resistance to the monomaniacal nature of writing.

To write _right away_ what it pleases me to write (and then leave off for the day, as time begins to press): With relief, I am allowing myself at last to embrace the fragment, with the justification (one of many) that it recollects the permeability of thought and memory. Non-linear, discontinuous, one thought, one memory, does not lead from and to another. Instead, each thought and each memory may arise from any number of others, variably, and in turn lead to any number of others, unpredictably and unexpectedly. The fragment resists the rigidity of thought and memory sequencing that is reinforced by writing that is continuous and linear.

Finally, it pleases me to write that as soon as I leave off writing the day fills up with thoughts of what ought to have been written, of what must be written on the morrow. I can begin to anticipate the crowds now: faces and places and routines of this fleeting Brooklyn ordinary, memories that stand out so sharp in me (a discourse on 'thisness' over _alubias_ at El Corral in Hervas; Castaneda's 'gait of power': my father exhorting me to run barefoot into the night desert of La Bufadora) that they pierce with urgent desire to be framed as consequential, packing lists I have known and packing suggestions for the existential traveler, a book project perfectly suited for the bedside table or the commode, perfectly suited for five minute consumption at long if not infrequent intervals.

20050306

Projected Books

Barthes lists his "projected books" ("projets de livre"). I have a number of these myself. They evolve a bit over time, most of them have been with me for awhile, in some form, undercurrents, accompaniments to my daily self-composition, occasionally breaking the surface here or there in a passionate fragment, only to be shoved back under again. Invariably, each of these projected books constitutes an attempt to package some bit of my writerly self for sale and consumption, and reflects my too intimate acquaintance with the tastes and demands of the market: linear narrative, character through-story in fiction; the problem of platform in nonfiction. This attempt to package is almost always at odds with my practiced and devout existential resistance to packaging (Lloyd Dobler: "I do not want to buy, sell, or process anything processed"). Loosely constituted then (my discomfiting mental logorrhea) these projects include: the novel, the travel book, the essays on solitude, monasticism, nature, food--each has many permutations. The aims of each, to somehow redeem past experience and underwrite the indefinite future extension of such experience, in the expectation that it, too, in its turn, will be likewise redeemed by future projects. Projects, then, as a guarantee of future projects and of the material from which they are generated. An endless regeneration of writing, of travel, of solitude, of food, etc.
...
Other projects: Pictographs (a compendium of memories retained as photographic imprints), Re-gi-na, In Fragments (the novel of love and suspended yearning). Another compendium: my biographia literaria. Still more: an ecstatic memoir, a teacher's memoir, a story of a life in divorce.

20050305

Writerly

Barthes has his definitions of "readerly" and "writerly" texts. I'll appropriate those adjectives and give them a meaning of my own. The readerly text underscores the status of reader, for better or for worse. The writerly text upsets the reader and tips the reader over into the role of writer, the text that evokes active response in kind, the generation of further text. What Barthes's text is, obviously, for me.

20050304

The Chatterbox of Writing

Memory is the chatterbox of writing. Audience objective:
the sodden poison. Silence all!

Hear now, here now. Channel the cosmic intersection. Speak in sibylline multitongue. Yawn forth the fleeting abyss.
The editor, the analyst, the publicist, they heed not the minute space of attention that finds the magic in these, the least of days.
Brooklyn bound in summertime, with a long empty sighing and quiet joy of stretching solitude ahead. This blessing, I, the summerman.

What is freedom? These minor constraints: breath and sustenance and shelter and ready-making for the proximate gaining ventures.
What is freedom here? This me and moi and on page clinging to the simple sounds of penstroke and memory of recognition of singularity of bright eyes open to its possibility.

Shunning not the easy disgrace of alliteration.
Shunning not the tell-tale archaicisms of too much read from too long ago. And shunning not, either, the naïve self-sufficiences of American Whitmans and Steins.

I sing a late spring morning in Brooklyn, full of a Kerouac-wackian It, because it is mine to sing and I see myself here singing it, in some older hoar, Dylanlike, singing it, with great rotundity and inflection to the twilight evening porch of my quieter years.

Singing my Treebeard whale-song this sound that pounds like the gray surf lapping
like the hammers hammering
like the still steady beat of this not yet too traveled heart.

Singing it because it is the sound that comes out when I silence the racket of censors and profiteers and spin away instead into the infinite life mines of my younger years.

Yawning forth, I sing, abyssus abyssum invocat.
Sing, sing, I speak, shameless and shunning not, Sibyl in sibylline multitongue.

20050301

Spanish Sardine

20050228

Mt. Fuji from Space

Mt. Fuji

20050227

Barthes by Barthes and Pierre Menard

Finished reading Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes yesterday. I enjoy this man's writing, despite its frequent opacity. We are kindred in spirit and temperament, if not in erudition and focus...I have noticed this before, we have some history together (S/Z, Le plaisir du texte, Mythologies). His primary theme is writing, a philosophy or science of writing...and the nature and being of the writer. Much of what he says rings true with me: that is, I have observed as much myself before. This discovery of one's own hypotheses in the crystallized form of another's writing: this ring of truth, strikes me as a phenomenon that lends legitimacy to the examination of writing as science. Writer/writing: a mechanism that may be disclosed, part of its structure laid bare, in these ringing moments. Even amidst the idiosyncratic clutter of the subject.
...
Much of Barthes is impenetrable, obtuse, accessible only via a course of reading (and of experience) of greater congruence with his own. And, what for? Love or hero worship. I am too old for that now.
...
Some of the bits I like the most are the bits (few and far between) that he acknowledges to be "of no importance to anyone" (117), where he sneaks in concrete details that define his subjectivity: his likes and dislikes. As he observes (the articulation of his awareness always a step ahead of me): "Is there not a kind of voluptuous pleasure in inserting, like a perfumed dream, into a sociological analysis, 'wild cherries, cinnamon, vanilla, and sherry, Canadian tea, lavender, bananas'? to relieve the burden of a semantic demonstration..." (135).

"(Thus, sometimes, in Japanese haiku, the line of written words suddenly opens and there is the drawing of Mount Fuji or of a sardine which delicately appears in place of the abandoned word.)" (135)
...
Reading Barthes brings to mind another of my texts: Borges's "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote." This notion of a text that might be written and match a prior text word for word and nonetheless be wholly different due to the different subjectivity of the later author. With so many of my writerly tendencies I feel, and am frustrated to a halt by, a replication of another's precedence. Whitman, Wordsworth, Woolf, and Barthes (et cetera, et cetera): they got at it already. So there is this frustration of redundancy, imitation, repetition--a frustration that the Pierre Menard hypothesis would wholly dispel...

20050226

Another Monday Morning

Curlicues of blue smoke: the lifelong chatter in my head. Melange of past and future, repetitive with slightest drift upward, out, back in again. Clouding the present.
Sitting still. Focusing on clearing the air. Clearing the palate, to discern the subtlety of another Monday morning.
Not to be stalled now by the what for of the putting on the page. The promiscuous mind, the raging loins, the hunger to get it all down and somehow to keep it.
It is God's job to remember every little detail, and yet I have perversely made it mine.
Fleeting glimpses of what might be, what might have been: inaccessible, tantalizing, desirable. The dream of true completion, rather than its fictive presentation.

I ingest, I become, I dissolve away in representation.

20050225

The world...

The world is in a handbasket.

20050224

The Attention of a Traveler

Sitting in a room in a Roman pensione.
The morning sounds from outside, ordinary and extraordinary intersected and crossed over into one another in my sudden and sobering recognition.
The road is my home.
Sitting here at this pine table in Brooklyn, I am away from it all and I am on my way. The attention I wish to bring to the day is the attention of a traveler.

The linear, the progressive flow, the I, offend me and distract me from what captivates me, and repeatedly, each time I forget, I strike them out!

The bright, clean cardinal with the morning papers. My ears keen to this, and my eyes as sharp for it yesterday. Pronounced in green.

Stillness and flow. The shadows of cool air against the sunlit kitchen floor.
Hammering, the airplanes, the remote mewing of a child. Car engines, sparrow chatter, and silence.
Readiness and disposition, a nearly imperceptible upward turn of the corners of the lips and an unmistakable inward lift.

This late spring morning in Brooklyn

This late spring morning in Brooklyn
the wicked and insidious starlings
buzzed away my quietest time
with their backyard green tree racket.

20050223

Nomadism, Mayhew, Merton

Travel, contemplation, and memory. Some bigotry in Henry Mayhew's project, having to do with his assessment of the nomadic life as unsuited to the development of personal traits valued by civilization. I embraced nomadism consciously, perhaps, upon reading Thomas Merton's remark somewhere that our feelings of existential anxiety are akin to the feeling of homesickness, and in fact stem from the same cause: that we are not, in fact, at home here but are, all of us, even the most sedentary, simply passing through this world briefly.

Batter me...

Batter me you three-personed God.
Assault my open ears with the definitive jet engine
and the sharp chipping of a bird that I cannot yet name.
Jet engine and quick black shadow on sunbright wood.
Car horn held long in rude anger
Whine of wood saw
And the rising hush and falling fall
Of passing breeze through full-burgeoned green of late spring.

Illusions of stillness and repetition
Dissolved again
In radical difference
In minute and ultimate real
In slow advance of breath and time
In incontrovertible wearying of cells.

Jet engine. Jet engine again (but another).
The next molecular breath shifting a varied pattern of green, not even the same to sharper ears.

On a Monday in Brooklyn the world is back at work again, out to do its worst. Failure, sleepwalking, repetition. Advances as unexpected as miracles.

Miracles and curlicues of blue smoke. Chatter past and future...

Batter me you three-personed God. Make me present.

20050221

Some Former Dwelling Places

Ariel
title or description
280 E. 2nd St. #9K
This is not Celeste
Calle Papin 4