Dear Reader: What follows are the "outtakes" of a more extensive correspondence between June and August of this year, which included peripatetic talks in and around Buffalo and Paris (Buckthorn Island, Lilydale, the Jardin Atlantique, the "She-Goat" on rue Daguerre, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Jardin des Plantes, a Mosque...)
JS 6/24 "Might be abird"
While I am a big fan, it’s precisely the problem I want to address- that Gary Snyder has to be the one who immediately comes up when you say poetry of ecology/nature/wilderness. Is that it?
It’s not so much Snyder as the strong pragmatic turn, state of war declaration (Earth First!), of eco ideology that presents a challenge. Kind of stops poetry cold. And yet the matter, the challenges to epistemology, aesthetics, metaphysics, ethics, the relations as science, history and magic discover them, are truly stuff for a poetics. A poetics to survive poetics.
(Another version of the ethical turn we’ve been hearing so much about?) That way negative theology also lies.
The Birth Mark is really a main text for me here- and of course Howe’s inscribed her work in libraries of writing (plucked by the "library cormorant"), which I come at from 17th century "Puritan" ends rather than the American 19th (equally Puritan) century. "Incloser" generalizes a poetics, perhaps even a dialectics, certainly a text, of wilderness.
I’m also interested in the possibility of doing away with wilderness. Redrawing the map. Let’s look at the invention of wilderness, how it’s organized.
. . .
Tracking (a word I continue to dislike, though I like the concept) is the better analogy: unfocused "scatter" vision, sweeping the entire field, is actually the quickest way to more precise seeing. Reverse atrophied peripheral vision! Use mirrors less by seeing more out the sides of eyes. "Unfocused" is also how I could best describe my current approach to studies. Zoom in on something- half by ear- then drop out to the edge again. Such scatter, when applied with focus, is environment awareness- a listening in place.
Only you need the place. Why it’s just "unfocused" in grad school terms.
From another angle, the way Cezanne paints (or attempts) what the eye actually sees at periphery- my explanation for his shifts in perspective. Especially as he had to redo the painting every time he came back to it.
This is where the birds, and animals, come in. As anyone knows, in most wilderness situations you have to become invisible to meet the locals. I’m interested in that kind of invisibility. Or as Sonic Youth and Joyce have it:
"I am the boy
that can enjoy
Not pretending not to be there but the opposite, proposing not imposing. Our invisibility chez les animaux- who are/were our spirit realm. (I heard it once proposed that we move too fast for animals to see us, or I’m thinking of John Berger’s moving essay, "Why Look at Animals?") How impoverished souls must be without them (or with them in cages). With what ruses they now enter our consciousness. What Texas Chainsaw Massacres.
Merleau Ponty talks about the sound & vision chiasmus locating our sense of others, enabling empathy. The "here over there" or proprioceptive distance.
Am I advocating a poetics of blur? Perhaps. What I like about Joan Mitchell’s best paintings is less the expression than those moments of semi crystallization from flux- the bits of canvas offering some nameless precision. Never discovered eye-slands. Francis Bacon too. Or for ear: Ashbery, Berssenbrugge...
What Tedlock’s been saying about parallelism rhymes here.
But to get back to "rugged"- that’s the commodified skin, and American blanket (car ad sheen), for what’s known elsewhere as simply being grounded in place, comfortable, at home outside. Doesn’t take a backpack. But might have to leave the desk once in awhile...
Can poetry be a way of making home? Age old question.
ES 7/8 "Get back on your mat, Brad"
I come back though to my irritation at the question how does one produce poetry despite a hostile environment. It never occurred to me that there would be a home outside poetry, perhaps. Yet I’m also frustrated with the paradigm of poetry as a generative disturbance, not something grounded in the sense of comfortable, placid, settled.
Language is not the only ground. I have been trying for a week to do my creative work in meditation, in circulation-not in anything I can make, keep a record of-have. But of course there is a record. Maybe we’re bad at reading the records of the body. I don’t want to say writing. A poiesis that does not articulate words or thoughts. Nothing isolable but not just a feelin’ either. So the interest in meditation is to make a record that I am content with not having in my hand, which would be outside myself, and here I think of self-portrait in a convex mirror, where the hand is huge and warped, exterior to the globe. Sometimes I reside in the mantra "so hum" I learned in yoga class (it’s a New York mantra: so hum already! shut up and make some music!)
Does matter have to be outside oneself to be something one reads? Of course after I had settled into this calm my refrigerator caught on fire.
. . .
My grandmother’s family, the Bourlotoses (Grenade Launchers), are Laconic. When her grandfather died she remembered his people crossing the bay wailing and shooting off their guns. They had to make their presence heard across water. Exohori stenohori all we feel is articulated in relation to place, feeling is an articulate place. this complaint of grandmothers.
A head rots from the fish up.
I wrote to Olson stop fucking space with the figurehead of she. But I also fuck with she. what my mother hated. would not be referred to when present as if elsewhere or unknown. abstracted. to enter characters.
I love Olson. I love Rexroth and all the ten feet tall misogynists. I even love their misogyny. Why can’t I doodle 16 year old nude girls in the margins of my work they’re pleasant to imagine.
Violin made inroads into my body. Behind it I was fearless on stage. Because it was speaking, because I could speak through it. A strange confidence, an unaccountability to anyone perhaps--that I never insisted on when speaking with my mouth. Though I feel it coming through now when I teach. I set the lead and the path. You follow. They want it. They want authority. People want to be told what to do, directed. Which isn’t to say passivity. But if you don’t speak--then what is there to respond to? The problem with pedagogy that feels so much guilt for authority is that they give the students nothing. They create a safe environment in which to write-this is the literal phrase-which is to say a vacuum in which it’s impossible to write because there’s nothing to read. I have to perform and I have to provide the set for instrumence.
The posture of my head, neck, left arm, my ribs pushed forward. Sitting always on the left side, looking out.
JS 8/9 "The packrat’s out"
Sad I was unable to write from Paris- somehow our subject, whatever it is, went dormant for me there. Something about the city sends me underground, into the cinema or book cave; not, at any rate, in the direction this talk (the way I hear it, at least) wants to take. Which is- I’ll state it here, not without admitting that "in" finally may be the same thing- out.
Such is Paris’s specular construction it’s hard to get outside of Paris, if not simply outside. At the same time, I know there’s an outside to Paris, as there is to everything; it just remains closed to me.
(Well, let me say, that probably the single element that keeps and has always kept Paris livable for me is its river- Seine, net, sieve- which draws the outside through its very center, and also invites the sky.)
There’s something alchemical about French gardens: the isolation of plant "essences," the near arabic attention to light and sound and water (I’m remembering a visit to the Generalife, in the Alhambra, almost ten years ago), the controlled shifts of scale, alembics of ease. Something, too, fabulous about walking into a train station and finding a garden- above the trains. (I’m thinking about the Jardin Atlantique.) It was a surprise hearing to what extent architects there had soundscaped for the ears (and not enough, perhaps, for the eyes). On the other hand, the apparent cheapness of the construction was a disappointment.
The problem with many French gardens- I’m thinking, for example, of the new Parc Andre Citroen, on the west side of the city, and not of the unimpeachable Luxembourg- is that they don’t seem designed for people. That is, aesthetically at least, when the park is full the people detach from it in awkward visual clumps- stripped for the royal eye. (Using park and garden synonymously here; perhaps I shouldn’t.) By definition a park is full of people, and should be designed so, to envelop and absorb them. English gardens, and our own Olmsted, do this well.
The exactitude of French science for the senses is always amazing, though- making gardens a place for transport ("qui chantent le transport de l’esprit et des sens"). So that the outside, there, is a kind of transport- or no outside, in a country which, being France, is everywhere.
I liked those photographs of the earth from the air that were hung along the Luxembourg Gardens fence; or more precisely, I liked the way they were hung, outside like that, bringing a real outside sense of the globe we’re on to the garden enclosure. They were also hung back-to-back, and up high, so you could see the people on the other side, also looking up, or across at you. What could have been isolating became the opposite.
Let me begin again: it seemed impossible to write these letters in a place so removed from wilderness-
Buffalo has taught me that inside-outside or domestic-wild distinctions do not necessarily correspond to a simple urban-rural (town-country) scheme. Something evident to clear thinking but which one can experience walking around South Buffalo. (Whether Buffalo, in its depressed state, qualifies as "urban" in the essential senses of the term, is another question.) My latest definition for "wild" is what escapes mapping. More on that later.
Writing is less and less portable, for me- whether because I’m more and more of a parasite (not Parisite!) on my library, or because the coordinates enabling me to work are more and more fixed in the outside place of my home (wherever it be, now Buffalo). Home is where one walks regularly.
You rightly point out there can be no home for poetry outside of poetry. But you also mention that poetry is a "generative disturbance." If you put these two movements together you get poetry’s location, as I hear it, not in itself, but at the EDGE of what poetry is not.
Perhaps a trite metaphysical point, but poetry that is not in touch with its own nothingness is simply not. (So the idea of a proper, "nurturing" environment for poetry is, as you note, irritating- or, more accurately, not irritating/ed enough.) Can what makes Buffalo interesting, while not exactly nurturing, for poetry, be the fact of its intensely "disturbed" environment?
ES 8/10 "Monster Trucks"
Your talk of gardens reminds me of the 3 weeks I spent temping for a landscape garden designer who was the son of a Belgian baron. Born too late, this was his title - "son-of-a-Belgian-baron." François Goffinet Limited. Yeah. He had a limited ability to wipe his own butt. I refused to get lunch for him. It sort of baffled him. Anyway, one day a woman called up saying she was Princess Romanov. I started laughing. It reminded me of the time Telly Savalas called asking for my father (they were both involved in some New York greek thing) and my mother thought it was a crank call. I always wanted to write a poem called princess romanov orders another rosebush. The plans the Goffinet people created were beautiful. Architectural, with all the flowers they would plant written in the crosshairs. That’s not accurate. Maybe the flowers came later, in Excel tables, long computations of roses. I remember a "ha-ha" (sort of little bridge?) in an English garden.
I think I know what you mean-not being able to write from Paris, a place so removed from wilderness. I suppose another way of saying what I meant about poetry. There is something incomplete or selvage about Buffalo-at least for us newcomers-which IS what makes it interesting, which is what makes it good. There’s not much to consume. There are no distractions, or even traction. Its reputation lies next to it like a double, like the beautiful error of its name. And so we write.
I’m glad you showed me the original meter carved on the wall near the Gardens. And again on the Luxembourg, I loved the way free standing chairs can be dragged to wherever you want, right up to the lawn. And that civility enforces on its own there; no need for nailed down benches and barriers and fences. No trash on the lawn. Courtoisie, politesse, chevalerie-all a kind of fascistic gardening. (Which seems redundant to say.)
When we lived in New York I was fascinated by the monkeys at the Central Park zoo. I didn’t want to go anywhere else but the monkey house. (Maybe the pony ride sometimes.) I guess for the same reasons everyone crowds around the human windows in the Galerie d’anatomie comparee. I was outside the zoo yesterday, looking down at goats and children. I talked to a young guy who wanted to go to a dude ranch "upstate." I tried to ride a duck, he told me.
. . .
Strange that you mention parasite. Since I have been writing on the "hétéradelphe" skeleton from the Galerie with the extra (headless) body either jumping out backward or diving into its chest. Since yesterday I visited a parasitologist, in an office I don’t even have to make up. He had a quiver of poison arrows on his wall from the Emir Pasha expedition in Central Africa. There was a little statue of a Jesuit-almost a santo-a huge dark desk draped with green velvet, black and white Kennedy-ish photos of children and sailing wife high on the wall. Thai dancers and Elizabethan chairs with hyena pads.
Yes I’m beginning to see this journey (as Mika said, like Montaigne’s Journal du voyage) as fieldwork. The parasitologist asked me the countries I’ve traveled to and the immunizations I’ve had. How thrilling the exotic might have come home with me. Maybe I can turn this into a "how the third world inscribed my body" manual for Routledge. I’m thinking they have a kit you can send away for, like Harlequin?
The Galerie made me think of Camillo’s memory theater-a memory theater of pathology, the head a filing cabinet turned inside out. A gaolerie of specimens, freaks floating in the walls.
I feel Poe in that place. Scaraboeus caput hominis. Not to mention Liriodendron Tulipiferum. I wish I could remember the full classification of that specimen, _____ hétéradelphe. I wish I could have shot the hierarchy of bones, the selfless displays of viscera.
Having already visited the Galerie de littérature comparée and the Galerie de langues et paroles.
And suddenly remembering Mrs. Quigley, the anorexic handwriting teacher of my childhood, who swooped down like a teradactyl each month to carp our hands for the state. Up to the attic and down to the cellar. Now that I think about it, the high school typing teacher was a nightmare too: Mrs. Wolf. j,k,l, semi!!
The antipodes as monstrous species and the demonstrosity of cosmological rationale. Astomoi and cyclops. A Bosch tenement. I’m writing Artaud around Metcalf and Metcalf around Artaud. Be direct. Be as contorted convulsive convoluted as I am. Nostalgia for islands. For being marooned. Ahab’s leg as empathy. Moby-Dick reflexology.
Allen reminded me of the X-files episode where a guy has a conjoined brother who lives off him like a parasite and can detach from his body. I needs to come out, did you say?
Or as Isabelle nicely put it, "Adelphe Hitler." (And me describing to her an Oprah segment on a boy made into a girl, and trying to explain that Oprah is the biggest monstrosity.)
Manglednowski: erogeonauts of the parasitic.
Did Artaud have them in his gut? The demons he was plagued and inspired by. One of my imaginary chapters titled "Ethnopoetics as Paracite." Another "Of Teratology." "Lost Tribes, Young Americans." "Blazing Saddles to Bowie." And, predictably, I think: para - site. Exorcism,to place someone beyond the boundary. Xenitia, the foreign-land. When you immigrate to America or Australia. A state of mind, a condition as much as a place. Miserable, like a stray dog. (remembering fondly how my "stray dog" was corrected to "roaming dog" by someone from Wyoming.) I’m not sure I agree that "wild" is what escapes mapping. I’m thinking of the old European tripartite division of the earth, where the west is an unknown, watery region, but there’s a slot for it-open, maybe, extra, but definitely mapped. And the forest as the wilderness of medieval Europe, encircling the city.
Parasites and aborted babies. It seems I do have to talk about the other, Jonathan, hackneyed and noncommital as it might be. Because hétéradelphe-like, there’s always something-someone-missing, and just before dawn I hacks them up into numerology.
the conjugal eye.
(Haunted by those Henry lines from the Dream Songs, couldn’t recall them exactly, and then finding them a few months ago in Liz Waldner’s Call: Often in the dawn (s)he reckoned them up. No one was ever missing.)
. . .
that joke they have in Virginia, neither smoke nor drink Norfolk. Liked those wings, by the way.
(Metcalf: Because if you drown, who cares? and if you don’t plunge, who cares?)
I long to consume.
I’m glad you sent me "Packrat": "the body is a catachresis-but one that knows it’s some." My poetics now are palpably indistinguishable from the compositions of my body. As it circulates too among all these hermeneuts.
(had Berssenbrugge’s Empathy with me in France. He is saying, I am here. She is saying, where are you.)
JS 8/18 "The Dump"
The eighteen liners (Mined) I like to think of as recycled language- which is what they are. Literally collaged from the ordinary, uninteresting language there seems to be no end of and which oozes out of my pen whenever I let it flow. Colorless syntactic constructions, banal phrases. The kind of stuff you hear around you all the time. (Coolidge’s early and most recent work seems, with certain caveats, to be recycling. And of course aspects of Ashbery.) I remember Yunte speaking of a need to redeem the multitudinous detail Pound rejected for the sake of "luminous detail." Yes, the multitudinous, hydra headed, aggregate; monstrous and monotonous many; the non-singular; the dime-a-dozen; heard one, heard ‘em all. I can’t get over this mud of words. Sort of like the trash that packages, surrounds, foams up around and trails after our consuming production- all those plastic forks and stacks of napkins and little packets of sauce, "earth friendly" paper bags- and that we almost automatically edit from view. Hefty-wrapped: out of sight, out of mind. The whole idea of cleanliness (I’m the first to be obsessed with it), luminous hygiene. Thinking (still) about those amazing Salgado photographs of people literally living on, their dwellings banked into, the dump heaps in the Phillipines, and in Bombay. Back riders on the foam of the world.
A great lesson for me, in India, was initially being horrified at the way people tossed their tin meal containers out the window into whatever landscape the train was moving through (and outraged at the fact there were no wastebaskets on the train)- until I learned that those who live beside the tracks collect this tin and use it to roof their shacks with. Not to perpetuate a top-feeder/bottom-feeder model, but certainly to complicate any simplistic progressive scheme. (Think of Benjamin’s "angel of history," propelled back to the future on a swelling mound of garbage.) The libertarian model of equal rights to consume and/or produce (K Mart, Target, Home Depot, Office Max, Dick’s, Barnes & Noble), in completely rejecting the ecological loop, proposes neither closure through such hierarchical associations, nor through individual responsibility- rather what seems to be offered is a bottom-heavy world (a global weeble, or should I say Inferno) of two hemispheres: one of products (the "global economy") and the other of trash. Mountains of it, which literally overwhelms and swallows the sub-humans aswim in this debris (cf. dump’s collapse on shanties outside Bombay last month).
So the problem, for an eco-poetics (sorry, torque or torture that as you will), seems to be this: poetry would celebrate & sing the shining more-than-human world, new as any exciting product or summer/fall collection. The latest beautiful tree; the most innovative cactus; a more complex & surprising biome; a wiser whale.
. . .
But concerns & energies seem to come through more vitally when not concentrating on "nature," instead tilling the dump of language. There the concern becomes vitalizing trash or, in one vein we were mining last week, entertaining parasites. (Remembering that in French "parasites" also means white noise, what I’ve called the foam of language; cf. Serres).
. . .
How does one distinguish a ten-foot misogynist from a five-foot structuralist? Or an "epic" from some of the longer, "language" oriented attempts? One extremely blunt way would be to say that the "epic" puts the world, as measure, first- making repeated and awkward forays, or peripli, with a heterogeneous mix of techniques- whereas "language" begins with a method, insisting that the "world" is always already method, repeating ad infinitum toward complexity and vastness. (Like chaos generating weather with iteration of a simple algorithm; or evolution, for that matter.)
Anyway, that’s a fruitless direction. Where I want to go with this is really toward ethnopoetics, and the loose, participatory, blurred and even trashy ways art can be done in some other cultures. (Even if, as I write this, I think of some sixties-seventies "happenings" and shudder. That’s not the kind of emulation I have in mind). Again, by "trashy" I mean inclusive, banal, relaxed, ambient, comprehensive in an environmental sense- not putting the "piece" of art in a museum or on a stage and shining a light on it-
A visiting poet dismissed ethnopoetics as cultural imperialism, during her talk here last year, and though there is certainly validity to the suspicion- one I keep active myself- it’s an example of the narrowing side of the "language" horizon. To imply somehow that we could leave other cultures alone, or conversely be left alone by them- besides demonstrating a peculiarly narrow intent- seems wishful and/or revisionist to an absurd degree. A resurrection of the same hygiene such writing pretends so stridently to resist.
What you raise in your letter touches on ideas/ attempts I’ve been making at a poetics of chemicals, a kind of investigation of "contamination," that would be a way of writing about illness, though not in the personal, very immediate way you’re dealing with- of writing about the illness of the environment. Of laying bare, with the aid of science, or investing certain realities ignored by the humanist subject. But, unfortunately, it still wallows in fruitless experimentation.
Also, I love para-site (as a revamping of Smithson’s non-site).
ES 8/29 "NatureTM"
This has been a pirate broadcast of the following choral forms: response, manifesto, pedantry cross-dressing as confession voguing as community, coyness of a guilt-ridden jock on the microphone at Take Back the Night.
You seem to want to pit the personal against the theoretical, which is so hackneyed and bogus it makes me want to retch.
Can you really be so ethnocentric as to not see how what you privilege as "authority" covers-in the sense of hides, occludes, disguises-but also plays, redoes, spins-the vernacular?
Following this ridiculousness, in which I was branded an essentialist feminist (something so amusing I whirled around like Stevie Nicks for a few days), I wrote a satire for the Prose seminar (modeled on McGann’s dialogue between anagrams of his name-I think it’s in Black Riders)
A Brief Panel on Cross-Guttural Poetics
Elsie Pencil: Welcome. All four of our panelists today have agreed to speak in prose, so we should be moving at a fast clip.
Our first speaker today has long been famous for her rejection of naming. Poet cum analyst, she has dedicated her life to keeping the memory of ’68 alive.
H.S., Essentialiste: Was I Dora kicked out of the circle? Was I Herr K on the make? A mob of Henry Millers surrounded me: jouissance, campaign contributions, wasn’t it all the same? How would I march on Temple Square, shout down prolifers eating pizza to fortify their unborn souls? Come on I said (my voice quavering), lick Bush! da doo ron ron...with the wolves!
Show me your hommelette and I’ll show you my vegetable dentata. I’m sorry, we don’t serve that parole souflee round here. Speak, daughters of Albion! cooped up here in Semiottica, batting away at Sing-sing. What’s my desire? Talk French to me like Benny Hill. Tie me up, make me watch your homophonia.
EP: Well. Our next speaker, Solipsist Pieton, is now an independent scholar committed to the peripatetic school. Sol?
Solipsist Pieton: It’s not easy being the Amelia Bedelia of academe. I say take him to task and they think I mean critique. What is theory but a chicken in gym shorts hooking to the left? Listen, I’m not sitting around in the aporia of my epistemological pantry searching for the pan. I’ve remained proactive. I’m not going to parse it for you. I’d say we need a specialist who specializes in specific
generalities; that means an expert in decomposition, and fast. Could you pick up my conscription at the pharmakon? Chaka Khan, Jacques Lacan? I dare you to ring his doorbell and run away.
EP: Sili Polis envisions a university without poetics students.
Sili Polis: It’s like saying Tom Sawyer and someone cranking Rush.
EP: Onus Pustule burst onto the poetry scene in 1970 with his Sonnets to Olson. Quickly disinherited by the pater familias, he comes to us today via satellite from the bowels of the earth.
Onus Pustule: Maximus? Try mini-me, philosopher-boys! How many eras does it take to read the universe on the head of your dick?
EP: Due to a plane crash, Loco Telos will be unable to offer a rebuttal. He sends his regrets.
I could fill a book with these never-posted posts & circulars whose authorship I wouldn’t claim or deny. The fun is in writing them, usually, and it becomes superfluous to publish. Without stamps of reception address falls into rumor. A fascinating example the letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu from Turkey during the early 18th century. Written to another woman, or herself?, the letters are preoccupied with the selam, "the language of the flowers," a Turkish epistolary form which sends objects (a bit of silk, soap, a lock of hair, an orange) that have concordance with set phrases. The initial sound of the phrase is coded with a homophonic object. Montagu’s letters begin to masquerade as this encryption, just as she herself envied the masquing Turkish women enjoyed by the veil-she felt it gave them more license. (I have always liked drag more than a dress.)
What you said about anecdote-the sneer of "that’s anecdotal" by scientists linguistic and medical, as in, I’m sorry, but we haven’t conducted a double-blind study on your life. (The "other" as control?) It seems to me you’ve put your finger on the point where the sneer of those who dismiss ethnopoetics and those who believe in systems (and thus pathology) meets. (AA: un homme renseigné sur des systèmes...c’est un monstre...)
. . .
A big reminder for me in teaching Native American lit was that this fundamental difference, that land is not title, can’t be underestimated. And concomitantly language is not something separate or imposed upon land, but comes from earth, is the translation of land’s language given to the people as speech (see Jeannette Armstrong on Okanagan). What Anglo eyes read as "essentialist", but then you start to see that an essential link between earth and one language is necessary to making the people, to staying the people.
I don’t need to read that book on nature religion to know how "nature" has been exoticized into the immaculate familiar. It’s pure and faultless, it’s better than us, we don’t deserve it, yet we all own it. You’re better, more honorable, you couldn’t last. I suppose you and I have been coming at the same problem from different places; my tendency being to ethnicize things, yours to locate in ecology.
. . .
you say "poetics of chemicals"...how can I see the true symbiosis of me in my environment, that I am as much a part of its toxicity, which is a bow aimed and ready to snap, and that there is no way of dividing chemical from tissue and blood, poison from nature. Kazantzakis in Report to Greco: Stretch me, lord, don’t break me. Stretch me, lord, snap me in two.
Invisible silent, what did Carson write. Is wilderness now the toxic dump aimed at us?
For a long time I was anti-environmentalist. Precisely because it was everyone’s mascot/scapegoat. Not even the most innovative cactus or the wisest whale, but the inoffensive redwood, the moderate rainforest, the middle-of-the-road wetland. It tends to shelter a lame humanism meant to distract us from the real violations. Just like being for animals. Who cares? There’s too many dogs in the park, too much adulation of pets. It makes me nauseous. I’d rather have a feral cat jump on my plate in a taverna any day. Maybe there’s no minority or "endangered species" that can escape mascoting. So everyone else can feel absolved. Really, it’s the domestication of Environment, of animals as pets, of Indigenous people as our poor noble Indians. Macho Pikachu. Near the rain forest. (But Pokemon turbo-charge into monsters. At the remote control of children!)
Between 1989 and 1991 I had the misfortune of seeing WS Merwin read 3 times, and each time he devoted half the time to sermonizing about the rain forests. I think one poem was literally "the trees/are crying" or something. But this is the natural outcome for deep image guy, in a movement that as Paul Breslin put it, shuffled around the words silence, snow, stone, and? ? I’ve gone blank. (A tendency that I have to say is being reproduced in some of the spiritual "post-language" set. A desire for a philosophical lyric that becomes so open and unlocatable it’s finally vacuous.)
Yes I do love ten foot misogynists. (We’re all five foot structuralists in the morning.) I enjoy the incorrectness, the creationist bravado, the arrogance of making a world, even as I see what enables it. So? I’d like to see more stepping out of the mimetic stutter and fragmentation that reflects our socialization.
1982: I was hooked on hidden persuaders. Everywhere my name was hilarious: streptococcus, stecolopsicle. We built this city on crack and crawl. As news editor I commissioned album reviews and exposés of teen animal sacrifice. I found out Berkeley offered a graduate degree in witchcraft. For years I thought The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was filed under occult and esoterica. I date my commitment to higher education from this point.
JS 8/29 "While the sun’s still shining (& After midnight)"
Well, after having hung up from our phone talk, I finished my Taco Bell meal-how’s that for environmental consciousness?-
I wanted to respond to your storm of a letter-a really fine letter. In spite of your complaints, "if I could write this, WRITE this, I wouldn’t feel so bad," you seem to be doing it, in oddly energizing ways. I like the freedom you exercise amidst the ice floes of buffalo.
There’s a way you really feel you’re on the lake in Buffalo, at the estuary of a short, powerful river. So in the spring and fall there’s a lot of distraction, a lot of travelers drawn to this spot. Right now, the last of summer, it’s pretty dead out there. Should be picking up soon. Fari-od-Din Attâr says the birds have a language, half fire, half air, that speaks yearning. A caged bird yearns. Abraham Abulafia finds that language and combination each total 368. Each letter possesses its own semantic value, the lure of the letter’s spatial and plastic potential. (Plagiarized from Steve McCaffery.) I’ve been looking for those letters out on the lake, listening for news from others who connect the continents, draw a thread through the outside, keeping us alive. At the same time I want to read the lettering inside the flames-Dante’s birds in rings of fire, a carny billboard from high-
Scholar’s self-image, mouth latched onto slag heap, a larva battening on words, slowly chewing their fiber. That’s why I spend so much time rooting words out of my sentences, I’m growing fat on all the inconsequential words, becoming one large, relative, pronoun.
Talk about monsters. I’ve never really been able to talk about monsters. Though I talk to a lot of them, talk to myself. For a long while I thought the gothic sensibility was a distraction from the true scope of nature. Not any more, when you chain the enlightenment body to the table till it really glows-remember those seventies transparent people you could take all the brightly pastel colored organs out of (only the heart was a solid red) and lay them on the table. I used to love the peculiar smell of that plastic.
Remember we were talking on one of our walks about enlightenment; I mean, the lets pin the body on the table and dissect it sort, the light on the liver in the operating theatre. All the beautiful gory anatomy, and then Vaucanson’s seductive machinery, water wheels for the useful employment of the blind, automata for the mental employment of the rich. A corseted android timpanist made for Marie Antoinette, naked from the waist down to expose the mounted wheeled armature. Another beautiful monster. I went to the Museum of Art and Technology in Paris-so Parisian: art and technology-which has been closed in past years for renovation; so a long-awaited visit. It might as well have been the Hall of Comparative Anatomy. The same march of creative evolution display idea, clearly leading up to something. A kind of recursive mania, creating the same thing again and again, only better. Or that’s the idea.
The meters installed outside the Luxembourg Gardens. Sade in his better moments measuring his perversion, perverting his measures. Essentially the spirit of Imagining Language (Mc Caffery). The original, hand operated semaphore telegraph-in good weather, could send messages hundreds of miles, with only the end operators in possession of keys. Lavoisier’s Darth Vader gas mask. A morse code transmitter I would love to possess. Clement Ader’s third flying chiroptera, stained ligaments in the linen flaps, swayback propellers where ears should be, like those long bones curved inside a whale’s mouth. Skin-stretched forearms, chimeric mammal crashes at the end of the runway. (Overcoming fitness, allright!) A turdlike silicon stalactite, formless crystal, at the very end of the hall of calculating machines.
The wafer sliced from it, sits proudly in the monstrance.
So we’re still mad scientists. While the monster’s a lense for nature-Thoreau examining grotesque mudslides on the railway embankment with a magnifying glass-that helps us see more, I too sometimes am in search of a more "wholesome" nature. A way to be in the scary unboundedness of it.
What kind of monsters we become in the Galeries de littérature comparée et de langues et paroles. In fact, I think this correspondence, if we keep it up long enough, will turn us into those jumeaux hétéradelphe. Question is: who gets to lose their head? Who becomes the parasite. I needs to come out. Rewrite Hegel in terms of Parasite and Host.
You mention the antipodes: I just read an interesting essay on maps by someone named Jacob (don’t know who it is, a French scholar; I received a copy of a proof of the translation, with just the name Jacob at the top) who describes nautical monsters as the overflow of the irrational at the edges of smooth space, an advance or retreat of animate world. Misplaced taxonomy, or taxonomic disasters.
But I like Para-site, as a way of locating the South Buffalo landscape. Because, no, it’s not escaped, but in a way the slot for it in the map takes it out of mind, literally "off the map." So that it does go about its own business, spite of the barnacles of once fat grain elevators it wears. "Reverts" to nature, as they like to say.
Why I like Para-site, because it’s not neat. It just kind of hangs there like the twin from the chest. It’s a conflict. Smithson: "Price, Gilpin, and Olmsted are forerunners of a dialectical materialism applied to the physical landscape. Dialectics of ths type are a way of seeing things in a manifold of relations, not as isolated objects. . . Representing nature once removed in lyric poetry and landscape painting is not the same as direct cultivation of the land."
You mention Space Mountain: that kind of space (void) also made me want to puke. Made my grandmother literally sick. We had to take her to this "recovery room" afterward, that they’d installed at the base of the monster; I’ll never forget opening the door and seeing about twenty grandmothers, all lying down. She lay there while we did Pirates of the Caribbean and the Kon-Tiki House.
Quite taken with Smithson’s expression of "dedifferentiation" and "oceanic fragmentation" in "Sedimentation of the Mind" (he’s just back from checking out the quarries of Pennsylvania shale, with his friend and their "wives"-it’s so hokey, that image of earth artists in turtlenecks on a junket, kind of like those corny scenes from "Easy Rider"). (What ever happened to Nancy Holt?) Anyway how to find a container for all this "stuff." Also-Smithson diatribes against fetish of refined materials (high grade steel, etc.)-how to let it rust. What to do with the slag.
So while I like what he says about the "land"-and recognize that South Buffalo is in this respect perfect Robert Smithson country-I find my attention’s entirely elsewhere. I’m riveted by the little things that creep across and around the edges; especially little things living there because few others live there. Spaces gone to seed.
ES 8/29 "Rant On"
My interest in ethnopoetics began at home, with trying to speak to my grandmothers in a language I didn’t know very well. Empathy is not cuddly and crusading and helpful, it’s ugly and painful and impossible. Re the charge-why assume others can only function as your victim?
But then, I’ve always played dumb when it comes to politics. I reject the proscription of experience so logos won’t show any cracks of ambivalence. The dismissal of anecdote. Then again, I’m not pleading for everyone to get along either. When the revolution comes, we’ll all have our own bantustan.
Call us Poetics chunk light-or chump light as the case may be.
My grandfather got on a boat and ran away to Argentina. So the first record we have of him in translation is not English but Spanish.
And empathy doesn’t mean to me that I know what it is to be you. It means I am taken up with the monstrosity of the problem, with those who hallucinate history as people wandering in and out of them. The monstrosity of how can *I* feel YOU.
Both illness and cure. Inevitably I have arrived at using homeopathy, which ten years ago was only metaphor, Dies Irae turning into Symphonie Fantastique. I see looking back that empathy has been the central desire in my research-the schizo who suffers universal history (the scapegoat by which it will become impossible to isolate and dominate an other.) The shaman who speaks for the patient, sucks out the poison into their own mouth, passes the sickness. The anecdote, the antiquote that’s administered so language can heal.
. . .
The techniques, the crafts I might say I know are invisible to all but a few people who share my code. Strange lingo. Watch out Aguirre the marmosets’ll getcha. And not just the ones playing softball.
I was reading Poetry’s Voice-Over and I kid you not, the 3 Stooges came on lip-syncing opera, Curly in drag, when the plug gets pulled and "she lost her voice" "where?" Then the phone rang.
I don’t remember those neon plastic bodies you talk about, only 2-D shrinky-dinks you puffed up in the oven. For me the enlightenment body is spectacular, yes, but also the rationalized target that undergoes autopsy in a theater of cruelty to become the body without organs. Medicine operating by deixis, excision, search and destroy, the way the cross (the most pornographic sign for Artaud) divides and conquers. When A gets shock treatments he’s being sacrificed in a Western death ritual (but one that won’t allow you to die, that corrects the death in you.) I see the sciences of man and the sciences of language as codependent in this scenario. To destroy the stratifications of the cross, the controls of linguistic structuralism, is to insist on the orientalism of all language-all language is exotic. And to insist on the pathology of all bodies.
When Lakoff came here I tried to get him to talk about medicine as a gross test of embodiment. Consenting to the metaphors of a system, giving them authority to work, is as important as the "fact" of neurons. Physiology is always subject to our mental transfers. (I got on the bus but my mind was still on the El.) Lakoff wanted to insist on the embodiment of metaphors, but he seemed uninterested in a reverse process-or perhaps another sort of embodiment-where the body is not some originary from which metaphors result, but is itself their product.
I keep having nightmares of people forcing me to take pills. In my case though it’s not blue meanies but the doc from Rocky Horror (aka Lacan pronouncing A "finished" as he locked him up. aka the department admonishing you to stay on target.)
And just to rant some more, because you digemoned the pokemon in me, I am so sick of "materialism" as it gets deployed, for it never recognizes that imagination is material and simulacra are material. It seems to me that materialists are the ones haunted by the specter, the bogie of positivism in a world where commodities are all about mystification. No way to fix them, unless you’ve got a spiritualist camera.
So let’s bring a recorder to Lily Dale and catch the spirits on tape. Paul is dead... I wish!