Sunday, March 09, 2008

Inside the first and fairest pyramid

Legend to a cross-section of the Great Pyramid, from John Greaves' Pyramidographia, 1646:
ab the entrance to the Pyramid
bc the ascent into the first Gallery
ce the first Gallery
dr the Well
gh the passage to the arched Chamber
hi the arched Chamber
fk the second Gallery
knq the first anticloset
nqo the second anticloset
op the Chamber in which the tombe stands

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Master Storytellers

Jacket copy from Scholastic Book Services' Master Storyteller Series' The Turn of the Screw and other stories by Henry James, 1966:
The Turn of the Screw, one of Henry James's most mystifying tales, poses a psychological puzzle:
• Are the two children innocent or corrupt?
• Do ghosts have evil power over them—or over their young governess?
These questions have intrigued readers for more than half a century.

In the four stories in this collection—The Turn of the Screw, The Pupil, The Tree of Knowledge, and The Figure in the Carpet—most of the action takes place within the minds of the characters. James draws his readers into this electric inner atmosphere, asking much of the imagination but giving great enjoyment in return.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Steal your face, space your election

Review of Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, and Mickey Hart's Deadheads for Obama concert

On Shepherd Fairey's Obama prints

†I took down the pictures that were here (they were too big in proportion to the rest of the page) but they are at the sites I link above

Crab in my shoe mouth

trey

My favorite Phish 2/2/08:
Manteca>Tweezer 10/30/98
Ghost 5/22/00
Live Phish 11, 11/17/97 & 11/18/97

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Fear of Fear (1975)

headphones

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sherlock Jr.

sherlock

Friday, November 02, 2007

Cryptochrome

Give us the greens of summers: a team of German scientists suggests that migratory songbirds' knowledge of their position with respect to the Earth's magnetic field may show up for them as a kind of visual phenomenon: the science and a journalistic summary.

Monday, October 15, 2007

It is not at all times that one can gain admittance into this edifice,

although most persons enter it at some period or other of their lives—if not in their waking moments, then by the universal passport of a dream. (Hawthorne, “The Hall of Fantasy”)

kiosk

sewer

A kiosk in the center of a plaza in the zone of post-war Vienna under British control conceals a stone spiral staircase that descends into the sewers that connect the city’s five occupation zones, and it is into this network that Harry Lime, the villain of Carol Reed’s The Third Man, escapes. The channels and pools and waterfalls of the sewers, the round, brick tunnels through which the detectives splash, make up a dreamwork of fantasy chambers like the dark cellars of recurring dreams in which the compartments are reordered like the chutes of a marble run or the 2-D culverts of a video game, dragged from a set of subterranean architectural elements represented in a box in the corner and placed end to end to build the pipeline through which your agent crosses the screen, or like the basements of old New England houses, whose dirt floors and crumbling walls’ recesses and staircases’ secret cabinets gave sensible content to what you, as a 5th grader, might have imagined the Underground Railroad to be. The space where spaces connect is visited often in the movies; the sewers in the Zone in Stalker, the subways of Dark City and The French Connection, the casinos and hotels of Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, the courtyard in Rear Window, and, more recently, the hallways in Inland Empire and the Turkish bathhouse in Eastern Promises are renderings of this original space, cinematic arguments that the forms of our deep and basic orientation in space are architectural, and more narrative than geometrical in their arrangement. There’s a nifty sequence in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou that takes you through a cut-away mock-up of Zissou’s ship, where the rooms are laid out with the cartoon clarity of a cross-section from a Richard Scarry picture book, flat like an antfarm window, and here space is neat and cute like Ed Norton's IKEA catalog apartment in Fight Club, organized according to the demands of a stunted, solipcistic aesthethism that dignifies as perfectionism a desperate and autistic adherence to the safe success of kitsch, the sort of success whose failure The Life Aquatic powerfully critiques and then less powerfully redeems, and this cutaway view is recalled and amplified and made transcendent in a sequence at the end of The Darjeeling Limited, maybe the only fantastical part of the movie, where we see into a succession of train cars as the train passes—and am I correct in remembering that the camera shows them to be not just chained together but joined at right angles?—each a perfectly composed tableau with one of the characters we’ve met or heard about, who, though in some cases continents apart, are linked for a moment in the space of moving pictures.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Notecard found on sidewalk 10/13

Went to barnes and noble
Spent the weekend at my Grandpa's and Grandma's house built fort in woods

To my surprise learned that I was in adv. reading decided to join Bluestars had great time sharing poetry with 2nd Graders

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

D & D

1. Dungeons and dungeons
The first thing you are told when you are initiated into the world of Dungeons and Dragons is that the kind of dungeon in question is not just a secret dark and drippy castle cellar with an iron grate in the ceiling and manacles attached to rings in the wall, but an underground maze extending in every dimension, with all manner of chutes and shafts and arras-concealed spiral staircases, keeps and caches, catacombs, crypts, and mausoleums, sacrificial theaters and mossy temple ruins with winged columns, censers, flames of worship, and smashed mosaics, throne rooms with chessboard floors of life and death, magic mirrors, springs and wells, reservoirs and rivers and sluice gates and spillways, catwalks and canals and bridges behind waterfalls, an infinitely productive inner space organized in the sort of rooms that Piranesi or Coleridge or de Quincey might have known in dreams, sketched on on graph paper by the Dungeonmaster, the game's host or narrator, who is separated from the players by a sort of Trapper Keeper folder fort that conceals whatever dungeon he has drawn, with little symbols indicating false walls, ladders up or down, a bloody trough or plinth or dais with a chest of gold or plate.

2. Dragons and dragons
Carl Sagan:
The pervasiveness of dragon myths in the folk legends of many cultures is probably no accident. The implacable mutual hostility between man and dragon, as exemplified in the myth of St. George, is strongest in the West. But it is not a Western anomaly. It is a worldwide phenomenon. Is it only an accident that the common human sounds commanding silence or attracting attention seem strangely imitative of the hissing of reptiles? Is it possible that dragons posed a problem for our protohuman ancestors of a few million years ago, and that the terror they evoked and the deaths they caused helped bring about the evolution of human intelligence? Or does the metaphor of the serpent refer to the use of the aggressive and ritualistic reptilian component of our brain in the further evolution of the neocortex? With one exception, the Genesis account of the temptation by a reptile in Eden is the only instance in the Bible of humans understanding the language of animals. When we feared the dragons, were we fearing a part of ourselves? One way or another, there were dragons in Eden. (The Dragons of Eden, 149-50)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Cinemascope

A man who was coming down the steps from the balcony as I was going up whispered to me that the movie had started fifteen minutes early, and though I instantly composed the letter of complaint I would write to the Cinema at the Whitney, whose Fall 2007 calendar is a sort of a life-map for me, an atlas of my routes through space and time, I felt fortunate to be walking into a screening of Contempt fifteen minutes late, with the movie standing against me as an event indifferent to my will, a flow of picture-stuff already under way, a stream in a channel whose true dimensions of reference and resonance I was lucky to actually see as beginningless, and my favorite seat was still free, a lone desk chair directly below the projection booth, in the center of the catwalk between the two wings of the balcony, where, if you lean forward and peer over the banister, carefully, so as not to eclipse the projector’s rays and enter the film as a silhouette, you can see the whole sweep of the seats below, all the heads facing the the screen, framed in a series of oaken proscenium arches receding to the stage, your comrades in luxurious imaginative privacy, even solipsism.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Ned placed the paper in the hand of the marble figure

A genre is a mode of storytelling in which objects belonging to a certain set are the primary carriers of the narrative. All the titles of Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew Mystery Stories posit two objects, a thing and its secret. The thing sort of summarizes or is the face of the secret, in the same way that a house seen from the sidewalk at night, the composition of shadow and shrubbery and light in the windows, can seem to summarize or be the face of something scary about October, and one imagines that in the order of the story’s action the thing effects a transport into mystery before any particular mystery is announced, that it suggests or causes magical thinking or perceptual disorientation or flights of imagination into necrotic inner tableaux before any particular crime or wrongdoing takes place, that the object is a sign before it is a signature. Almost all the books' titles conform to the narrative formula I suggest, in their logic if not in their manifest grammar, but you may perform your own detective-work:
The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, The Bungalow Mystery, The Mystery at Lilac Inn, The Secret at Shadow Ranch, The Secret of Red Gate Farm, The Clue in the Diary, Nancy's Mysterious Letter, The Sign of the Twisted Candles, The Password to Larkspur Lane, The Clue of the Broken Locket, The Message in the Hollow Oak, The Mystery of the Ivory Charm, The Whispering Statue,The Haunted Bridge, The Clue of the Tapping Heels, The Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trunk, The Mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion, The Quest of the Missing Map, The Clue in the Jewel Box, The Secret in the Old Attic, The Clue in the Crumbling Wall, The Mystery of the Tolling Bell, The Clue in the Old Album, The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, The Clue of the Leaning Chimney, The Secret of the Wooden Lady, The Clue of the Black Keys, The Mystery at the Ski Jump, The Clue of the Velvet Mask, The Ringmaster's Secret, The Scarlet Slipper Mystery, The Witch Tree Symbol, The Hidden Window Mystery, The Haunted Showboat, The Secret of the Golden Pavilion, The Clue in the Old Stagecoach, The Mystery of the Fire Dragon, The Clue of the Dancing Puppet, The Moonstone Castle Mystery, The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes, The Phantom of Pine Hill, The Mystery of the 99 Steps, The Clue in the Crossword Cipher, The Spider Sapphire Mystery, The Invisible Intruder, The Mysterious Mannequin, The Crooked Banister, The Secret of Mirror Bay, The Double Jinx Mystery, The Mystery of the Glowing Eye, The Secret of the Forgotten City, The Sky Phantom, The Strange Message in the Parchment, The Mystery of Crocodile Island, The Thirteenth Pearl

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Privileging the optical

Tonight was viewing night at the Leitner Observatory, a fact I remembered around the time the viewing began, deep enough into a night in early October to see some stars in the city, and I gathered my things quickly and left, taking those streets that offered the most privacy for writing. When I arrived at the observatory, a flat, white building with a couple of silver domes open to the sky, the whole thing perched atop a hill in a park bordered at the bottom by university greenhouses and gardens, the graduate assistant who hosted the event and ran the telescope was telling some visitors that she had seen Hale-Bopp but not Halley’s Comet, the fizzle at the end of the space race whose star-trail burned most brightly in the cosmological imagination of American children who had absorbed space movies and PBS children’s science and science fiction as life-stuff during the years of Carter and Reagan, whose primary sense of wonder emerged or sort of opened out of a set of ways of framing backyard star views, and whose whole aesthetic/narrative vision of stars and space lost its plausibility and appeal not with the slow non-event of the comet’s failure to show up to the naked eye but with the daytime explosion of the Challenger on January 28, 1986, after which the curved and graphically simple letters of NASA could only signify something in the past. The telescope was aimed at Albireo, a double star in the constellation of Cygnus, a yellow star above a blue one, and I looked at it twice, once just looking and then more analytically and greedily after bolting back up the ladder to the eye-piece to confirm a vision that had become improbable in memory and would never, after the telescope was rotated, be available again. The Ring Nebula was next, and the rectangular opening in the dome shifted slowly around to reveal to a different slice of the night sky. The assistant said that the best way to view the nebula, the “leftover outer envelopes of a dead star,” was indirectly, by looking to the side and letting the thing appear gradually in the corner of one’s eye, a little knotted circle of light at the center of a sort of radiating tunnel or halo you could only ever seem to see, and to make it easier to see she put out the lights in the dome and threw a cloth over the computer screen. Last was globular cluster M15, a patch of the Milky Way dense enough to be considered a single object, thousands of “stars born together, suns as bright as ours, and bound to each other by gravity.” I asked the assistant a couple questions about the observatory to learn by what sorts of steps it mediated our experiences of these distant objects. The computerized star chart that controlled the position of the telescope was not fed by any real-time monitor of celestial objects but was just a list of what was visible when and from where, a summary of calculations astronomers did long ago on paper and that would be reliable for hundreds of years; the image in the view-finder was not an electronic or digital reconstruction, but, at the end of a series of lenses, a composition in natural light.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The same flitting witchcraft made a new one

I was just looking through The House of Seven Gables to see whether I was right in remembering that Hawthorne used the word phantasmagoria, and to see in what sense he might have used it, and I came across a mini-index I kept the summer I read the book. Its entries read: magic picture; looking-glass; illuminated map; sampler; New England Primer; tea set; well view; organ grinder’s organ; soap bubbles; seven-mile panorama. I had guessed what might be on my mind three years hence, and the page number I had marked well view returned me to this passage:
He had a singular propensity, for example, to hang over Maule's Well, and look at the constantly shifting phantasmagoria of figures produced by the agitation of the water over the mosaic-work of colored pebbles, at the bottom. He said that faces looked upward to him there—beautiful faces, arrayed in bewitching smiles—each momentary face so fair and rosy, and every smile so sunny, that he felt wronged at its departure, until the same flitting witchcraft made a new one.

At the movies

proscenium2

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Eastern Promises

If you like art-film-at-the-multiplex movies on the Coppola-Kubrick-Lynch-Polanski-Scorcese spectrum of cinematic grandeur, you should watch Eastern Promises; nobody knows when one of these movies will be the last of its kind. An early head-on shot of Anna (Naomi Watts) riding her motorcycle confirms the film’s claim to cinema in the grand sense of wide pictures, deep dreams, and saturated color. Cronenberg shoots on film and then does digital touch-ups, but Eastern Promises looks like something from the 70s, like the print you’re watching has been shown all summer—the palette, which is perfectly composed, is perfectly textured—and the drab silveriness of the motorcycle shot isn’t Soderberg-Spielberg slick but rich and overfull, and you can imagine film stock lattices of square holes running down the sides of your vision. Cronenberg has made a lot of good movies—sick and scary ones (the amniotic/incestuous Dead Ringers is a psychoanalytic regression-event best experienced alone, and it outdoes Matthew Barney in terms of surgical instrument-fetish), stylized Cultural Studies dissertation material (think of the mallscapes of Scanners or the Medici fashion eyewear show at the end of Videodrome), perfect 80s pop (The Fly is the paradigm Jeff Goldblum charming goofball performance), and interesting failures (A History of Violence, a sort of Stephen King rewrite of Empire Falls, looks like it is made for Sunday night TV but sustains an addictive mood of dread)—but Eastern Promises is a masterpiece: its secret crime networks and rituals and codes are fascinating, but the moral underworlds beneath them are sublime; the gross-outs are metaphysical wonders (the Chechens’ knives, whose shape you will not soon forget, slice throats so cleanly that murder looks like a kind of editing of space and time); we are taken to the weird infinite yellowy bathhouse that many of us know from dreams; the story undergoes a narrative reordering too deftly executed to be called a “twist”—something more like a beautiful arc in knowledge; and the villains, who feel like old friends, may look at you later out of dreams, their faces outlined and vivid, a set of masks installed by the filmmaker, now calling on you with a horrifying power of persuasion.

Seeing the thing & also its frame II

Two nights after watching Jules Dassin’s The Naked City (1948), I can remember little of the narrative content—the plot, generic noir crime stuff, is just raw material for what is basically a spectacular editing-event, an argument for cinema as the art of style and succession. The Naked City, we are told, is the city of 8 million stories, and what’s special about the movie is the high modern freedom with which it flits through scenes out of them in a sort of filmic all-over painting. What I remember best is an image from a montage that shows us many of the many millions of things happening simultaneously one afternoon. Somewhere a theater is empty, and we see it from the right side of the balcony in a sort of View-Mastered receding view of layers of depth, and the stage, lit but vacant, is framed by bunched curtains looking like the eyes of some sort of bug face, like sunglass lenses mirrored like Japanese beetles with coppery spectra of green and purple and popped out of aviators, or like the windows of some European streetsweeper or earthmover, triangular but rounded and made friendly by the black rubber gaskets that seal them, an image of theater-as-face or theater-as-face-seen-from-inside.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Rialto

Across from the Hubbard Free Library, the library of my childhood, a churchlike, stained-glassed structure of stone into whose Children’s Room a train derailed long before I ever spun the carousels, stands a large building with no obvious entrance or identifying markers, its windows boarded up, its yellow-shingled façade, an eternal feature of the Second Street of my imagination, closed to the world. Growing up, it was common knowledge that it had once been a movie theater, and that no one had seen inside for decades—this was a sort of linguistic fact in the shared story-map of the city—and I wondered whether the seats might still be there, the screen, the velveteen curtains, the lanterns, and the gently curving banisters of symmetrical staircases that might have led to the balcony and projectionist’s booth, all this preserved under layers of dust and crumbled plaster, a whole secret cinema in the darkness, the receding aisles’ perspectives there but unilluminated behind the walls of an anonymous city block.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A natural spring

From the preface of Chelsea Granger's Rills, Runnels and Rivulets:
In early spring, when the snow was granular, dirty, and patchily melted, a little licking leaf of water flickered out of the grass at the far end of the field below our elementary school, “a natural spring,” my friend called it, and while I knew she was mistaken, and that the little twisting jet was just the out-spout of some stream of melt-water led through whatever unseen system of ice lanes beneath the snow, I envied the ease and confidence with which she named this basic feature of the world and wished to be able to use such expressions, even falsely.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797)

I do not know how it is, tho’ I am ingaged in portraits… I find myself continually stealing off, and getting to landscapes.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

„Welt als Wille und Vorstellung?“

WG

Wohnung

Members of a terror cell meet; from Fassbinder's Die dritte Generation, 1979

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Heavily insulated cloisters

The quotation nested in this passage from Benjamin pictures a time when modernity might plausibly have been imagined as a collection of external effects from which one could withdraw:
The following passage from Valéry (Oeuvres complète, J, cited by Thérive, Le Temps, April 20, 1939) reads like a reply to Baudelaire: “Modern man is a slave to modernity…. We will soon have to build heavily insulated cloisters…. Speed, numbers, effects of surprise, contrast, repetition, size, novelty, and credulity will be despised there.” (The Arcades Project, S10,2)
We are tempted to believe that the historical moment in which a suspension of the aesthetic forms of modern experience might have been possible is past, that the whole titillating array of shapes of difference and change and discontinuity is more or less built in to how you look at things and who you are and what you desire and as such is not anything you might escape from but rather the animating force of the thing that is always trying to escape each decaying pleasure and wishing for some wild opposite to cut transversally across the enveloping boredom. But if instead of a retreat into heavily insulated cloisters one imagines moving into increasing openness, the paradigm of which might be walking outside on Earth, and if one just starts walking, an entirely different narrative order of experience might reveal itself.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Richard Rorty 1931-2007

From Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity:
By seeing every human being as consciously or unconsciously acting out an idiosyncratic fantasy, we can see the distinctively human, as opposed to animal, portion of each human life as the use for symbolic purposes of every particular person, object, situation, event, and word encountered in later life. This process amounts to redescribing them, thereby saying of them all, "Thus I willed it."

Seen from this angle, the intellectual (the person who uses words or visual or musical forms for this purpose) is just a special case—just somebody who does with marks or noises what other people do with their spouses and children, their fellow workers, the tools of their trade, the cash accounts of their businesses, the possessions they accumulate in their homes, the music they listen to, the sports they play or watch, or the trees they pass on their way to work. Anything from the sound of a word through the color of a leaf to the feel of a piece of skin can, as Freud showed us, serve to crystallize a human being's sense of self-identity. For any such thing can play the role in an individual life which philosophers have thought could, or at least should, be played only by things which were universal, common to us all. It can symbolize the blind impress all our behavings bear. Any seemingly random constellation of such things can set the tone of a life. Any such constellation can set up an unconditional commandment to whose service a life may be devoted—a commandment no less unconditional because it may be intelligible to, at most, only one person. (36-37)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Seeing the thing & also its frame

proscenium

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Theme from Ice Castles

So read the sheet music on the white upright piano in the gymnasium of the State-owned office building in which our 6th-grade phys. ed. classes convened after our junior high’s own gym, a subterranean former swimming pool cast in uncompromising concrete, was deemed unfit for athletic use, and this title guided the synaesthetic content of my imaginings as Eden, a new girl tagged immediately for social punishment by a peer group whose ethos of cynicism and emotional opacity could not brook her context-independent and dentally perspicuous grin, omnidirectional enthusiasm, hyper-clearly enunciated speech, frequently advertised love of horses, or name, who, in spite of a tall and nimble frame that probably scored <10% on our gym-class’s annual caliper-intensive body-fat exam and a natural gymnastic knack gleefully displayed in cartwheels and flips and a general unceasing kinestheticism and readiness to dance, was athletically speaking a bit of what sidelined youth soccer parents called a “flower-picker,” and who spent as much gym-class time as possible at the piano bench, plucked out the slow-motion backflipping arpeggios of what was actually “Für Elise,” played not from the sheet music but memory, and to these undulating cascades I imagined fly-bys of polar wastes, receding multichambered caves whose icicle stalagmites and –tites lit and pulsed rainbow-spectrally, stacks of cubes recombining sympathetically in translucent, Q-Bert-like geometries, rotating haunted celestial cities, and ice turrets with banners flapping more or less in the same fashion as the banners Eden, who aspired to being class artist and according to our 8th-grade yearbook’s surveys was, had taught us how to represent as a stylized terrace of squares.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Don’t Forget the DURACELL Batteries

I was walking through an alleyway behind our building this morning, and an image on a Dumpster caught my eye: a battery, the simplest picture that could stand for one, a few lines in C- or D-cell proportions depicting a three-quarter view with the top and nub and on the side the words Don’t Forget the DURACELL Batteries looking like something homemade and screen-printed, the letters of DURACELL roughly in the right shape—the science fiction non-connecting R and the horseshoe magnet C—but each speaking as an individual, some independent substance pressed into service and only accidentally a letter, the whole thing a vision from the old world of image, where logo-makers might have used stencils and French curves and transfer letters at a tilted table and gone home and lain in bed and seen afterimages of gridded paper, where even the original of the logo was a sculpture in decaying matter, a temporary trash-picture, a freedom zone of lines dreamed in stuff condemned to rust, rot, and grow away from whatever form it was asked to imagine. The battery was one of those flexible magnets, and greed compelled me to peel it off. A corner crumbled and fell but the rest came off intact, revealing a same-shaped space of greener Dumpster blocked off from stain and sun since the moment of the magnet’s placement. I recognized at once the destructive and irreversible character of my action, maybe the first intentional modification of the magnet in 20 or 30 years, the first interruption of the long non-event of the thing’s just being there, the cancellation of a gesture begun in another world and allowed by miraculous non-action to reach into our own, and I returned it, knowing shamefully that I had destroyed not so much a portal to another time as its actual continuation.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Fountain vision extended

Schneetüben's account of the origin of "The Dowser," as quoted in Körner's Gesichtszüge der Genie: Beiträge zu einer Physiognomik der deutschen Romantik, 2.Band :
Embedded in the rear wall of the garden was a fountain. A grotto framed the stone head of a crazed lion, out of whose mouth arced a jet of water set free, in the sculptor’s sole offering to contingency, to glisten according to each moment’s particular composition of sunlight and shadow before gathering again in a greening copper basin. As I watched the stream I found myself increasingly able to parse its flow into particular prismatic twists, to trace the fall of individual droplets and see how each separated pure light into spectra of color. When I turned to look back across the grounds, a vision of water opened before me, and I saw, in a sort of second-sight running parallel to my apprehension of the lawn and the hedges, a complete picture of the movement of water underground, not just hidden streams and springs but sewer ducts, a system of troughs and porcelain cisterns, and the ancient stagnant pools of buried wells. (124)

Friday, April 27, 2007

A view of East Rock

from the banks of the Mill River, a birding hotspot of southern Connecticut

northernlights

Hilary Irons, Northern Lights, 2007, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 40 x 44 inches

snipe

A detail featuring the American Woodcock, falsely identified by me as the Common Snipe, doing its characteristic up-and-down bobbing move

The experience begins as a fascination with unexpected detail, the aptness of accident, real-time exploration of the unknown

Romanticism can be distinguished from idealism by a peculiarity in its attitude toward the unity of mind and world in knowledge. When romanticism asserts that the world exists in acts of mind, it intends not to deflate more robustly realistic pictures of knowing about the world, but to insist on a form of experience that is superior to them. It does not defend idealism as a philosophical truth but rather exalts it as the highest and most divine genus of knowledge, which knowledge may grow from acquaintance with the most fine-grainedly empirical. This sense of idealist knowledge as a sort of achievement is clear in the following passage from Schneetüben:
I have recently embraced a theory of knowledge on which what is known is a rare and complex particular that exists only in its being known, and that it is available only in an unforced alignment of inner and outer circumstances. (Chemnitzer Tagebücher, 34)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What you can know about a thing only when the thing is there

is generally less well understood than what you can extract from the thing and translate and interpret and know even when the thing is gone, like what it says, means, is about, is like, is influenced by, colludes with, or refers to.

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, the author of Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey, wants to help us understand being there with the thing:
We know that, shortly after eight o’clock in the evening, the orchestra will begin to play an overture that we have heard many times. And yet the discontinuity that marks the moment in which the first sounds are produced will “hit” us—producing an effect of eventness that implies neither surprise nor innovation. (84)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I am outside in the city in a walled garden alone

Again the garden goes back further than I expected

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The last mall

Yesterday evening I set out to find images of a department store I went to as a child, thinking that its logo, a yellow, orange, and brown rainbow pitched to the side, might fit some ancient neural lock and open mnemonic pathways of forgotten consumer desire, of the misplaced and perverse and basically theological awe with which I regarded the store, under whose sepia arc were gathered the objects that summarized and held prisoner my wishes. This interest, however shabby and debased, is apparently not idiosyncratic, for I discovered a sizeable Internet community devoted to the resurrection in word and image of defunct chain stores and abandoned malls. It is common for retail enthusiasts to visit the defaced concrete shells of the stores that held them in thrall and examine them as they might the body of some fallen Titan. Some have quasi-academic aims, while others are driven by an Asperger’s-like fixation that, under different subjective circumstances, might have attached itself to amusement park rides, trains, bridges, or weaponry, but as it happens has shown up as, say, the need to visit every former Caldor in New Jersey. Accounts of what crumbled ceiling tiles, brackish pools, or flourishing trees of mold were visible through the plate glass are posted to message boards and illustrated with photos of cracked plaza signage, still-extant pebbled trashcans, and parking lot weed-life. You can find photos of store aisles and displays from the 1980s, the walls striped with combinations of colors flushed from aesthetic imagination over dozens of cycles of rebranding, sketches of remembered floorplans and logos, scans of price tags, receipts, and circulars from the newspaper. The basic impulse behind these efforts of memory, which I share to some degree, is perhaps one level more advanced than the impulse to collect the actual items that dominated one’s consumer imagination as a child, for it locates the desire for a commodity not in the thing but in the place that enshrined it, the dimly glowing mallscape of illuminated fountain jets and globe lights and neon in the dark, in the glowing proper name in the night that marked a site of wish-fulfillment. A further advance, from the active, coursing locus of illusion to its empty frame, its bleached and logoless façade and liquidated, aisleless interior, offers simultaneously the ultimate object of consumer fetish—the most direct and spectacular presentation of an object of desire that can never be made present, a permanently absent referent—and the hope of its extinction.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The best picture of the human soul

“The human body is the best picture of the human soul,” wrote Wittgenstein. I do not know what he meant, but it is easy to imagine a home for this remark, maybe a gallery of sculptures of ancient Olympians poised to throw a javelin or discus; a patch on the rucksack of a Wandervogel identifying wildflowers along the Spree; the cries of a coxswain on the Cam; a post-game interview with Shaq, who praised Aristotle for his belief that “excellence is a habit”; a block-lettered banner strung across the glass front of the Planet Fitness you see into from the highway on your drive home. Maybe Carl Sagan said something like this to the NASA people when he proposed his and his wife’s design for the plaque on the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, the naked man and woman standing side by side, waving, perhaps the first picture of the human soul to make it out of the solar system, a message to extraterrestrial life that our bodies are shaped like this, a fundamental and informative fact, to be sure, though perhaps less expressive of our soul than the fact of our having sent Pioneer far beyond our world.

pioneer

Say we accept Wittgenstein’s dictum; what might the best picture of the human body be? The gingerbread man gets something right, but the head-to-toe humanoid form is usually someone else’s, not your own. The most basic body might not be one you see walking around, but the one you are. Following this suggestion, Ernst Mach took a wild stab at first-personal bodily representation by attempting to draw in the most literal way what met his left eye, but the result suggests a terrible misunderstanding.

mach2

Some recent work by Matt Capezzuto, an MFA painting student at Yale, is more promising. Maybe the best picture of the human body—the body that is lived, unspeakable, coextensive with the soul, and always already yours—is a surface with a hole in it.

pitcrit2

pitcrit5

pitcrit4

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Beatles notes

My mom gave me a tape of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band for Christmas when I was ten. I didn’t listen to the whole thing right away. First I couldn’t make it past “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” which made me scared to leave my room at night, and then I got stuck on “Within You Without You,” which gave me the unpleasant sensation of seeing into some interior chamber of the universe where the gears that powered cosmic movements churned away and had always churned, indifferent to the scope of human time. Each song posed a different aesthetic challenge, and a general spookiness reigned throughout, a sense that the music was addressed personally to me, that some disembodied, demonic personality was communicating through a sequence of warbling tones that it knew not just deep shapes of my mind that I could glimpse only fleetingly or not at all, but also how my bedroom was arranged. Maybe an account of the permanent strangeness of the album could begin with a review of children’s experiences of it, the way the buzz of the tamboura in “Getting Better” seemed to cut transversally across normal planes of space, making a clearing in the middle of the density of stuff where self-consciousness could emerge for the first time, the way the doubled notes of the harp on “She’s Leaving Home” seemed to cause designs on the wallpaper to ripple, the way the echoing breaths and moans at the end of “Lovely Rita” seemed to prove that Paul was dead, that Lennon was dead but still speaking to you directly, that sex and death were the same, the way the wordless vocal leading McCartney’s part of “A Day in the Life” back into Lennon’s seemed to suspend you in a column of colored light projected from the triple corner of walls and ceiling. Sgt. Pepper’s is kids’ music, after all, starting with the album’s first guiding concept: a collection of songs about their childhood. Julian Lennon’s drawing of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” that song’s Lewis Carroll park-world, opaque syllable sequences like “Blackburn, Lancashire” that drift into your mind out of the vocabulary of some adult who knows and worries about things whose names refract and echo for you in irrelevant patterns of other meanings, all the scenes of mundane, lower middle-class life in post-war England that are blasted out of into soaring aerial views of radical, ecstatic alterity, the universal rainbow palette of the colors on the cover, the Old Curiosity Shop of pump organs and whistles and pipes and resonating chambers of every antique timbre, the global reach of the animal sounds and sound effects, the absence of regular rock music, the rolling sidewalk streetscape in the stride of the quarter notes, and just the virtuosic musicality of the melodies, the carelessly good Mozart way they seem to just flow out of a heaven of always-existing music, plus the fact that the idea of a pop album as an aesthetic unit was only about one year old—all of this suggests that Sgt. Pepper’s sounds permanently new because it is itself a sort of child, an emerging awareness of mind and world, the construction of a transcendent self out of the accidental, uncool junk of one’s provincial surroundings, a collection of shifting and wondrous effects gathered around an absent core, the central, self-possessed non-knowledge that gives a child space to imagine anything.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Some kind of ventilator

I made a couple mistakes when I asked readers of Long Sunday to help me make a list of phenomena that, though not directly observable, make themselves known by the distortions they cause in some mediating element—think of, say, the Invisible Man. One was not requesting some justification for adding an item to the list—the “Explain.” part of the assignment that teachers perfunctorily require and that students neglect with impunity—for suggestions like capitalism, history, and thoughts are fatuous without further elaboration; these answers themselves are in need of some woolen cloak of narrative or image to make their contours visible. Of the responses I received, I was most impressed by wind and Henry James, though I think that the latter probably doesn’t belong under the given category; while I suspect that Henry James may have believed that Henry James was not available to direct observation, I'm not sure he would have considered language—what other medium could be intended here?—an element in which some more primary thing appears, distortedly.

More fundamentally, I failed to adequately frame the phenomena that really interested me, something more like things that are there and available, but more knowable through some modified representation that contains less information than the original. Think of Neil Young, who found that his autistic son was more responsive to his voice when he spoke through a Vocoder—an electronic device that splits your voice into what sounds like multiple parallel channels of robot frequency, a staggered, receding chorus of electric fan vocalizations— or the close-mic’ed horns on the Beatles’ “Got to Get You into My Life” or “Good Morning Good Morning,” where the distortion and compression recast the melodies in chompable pop-forms before they meet the ear, which is delivered a flow of acoustical fact so selective that the mind's eye doesn’t immediately reconstruct the shape of a saxophone and is instead allowed to synaesthetize freely. My question is this: what is the right amount of information to give the brain in order for the aesthetic imagination to do its work best? What filters and reductions—what forms of omission—what shapes of gap in the thing remove it from real-world reference and place it in the nightspace of stereo audition, the starfield of self-illuminating, self-composing image-objects, the fountain world of nameless, friendly shapes, of unspeakable but immediate micro-stories, of ancient architectures drawn in thought?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

It's such a strange strain on you

We had spelling tests in the first grade, on unerasable, columnar papers wide enough for a dotted and nested number, a word, and the teacher’s marking. In the second grade, we had vocabulary assignments where you got to know one word really well—spelling, meaning, sentence, picture. Our class had a recurring segment in which, if you brought in a new pair of homophones—I/eye—the teacher would add them to a list on the bulletin board—you/ewe, we/wee, die/dye. Special honors were conferred on whoever found the most, and while I was a serious competitor, the most shocking assertion of identity and difference I can still recall was a classmate’s discovery, the triple surface of rain/rein/reign, a revelation that expanded most those minds that saw a word’s sense in its shape. That year, the word “cursive” began to circulate in the classroom, usually paired with some adverb of future time. I knew it that it referred to some pending life-change, some special status-transforming knowledge, before I knew what it denoted or entailed. We learned the characters as units, and by the third grade we were stringing them in single lines on pulpy, horizontally oriented sheets ruled in blue. Soon our most important compositions were to be submitted in cursive, for the elaborate, rule-governed script showed our attunement to the claims of authority, and maybe even that we had infused our writing with care. Calligraphy was offered as a special after-school course which, like French and Violin, students’ parents had to pay for—a prospect that horrified me greatly—and its advanced loops and gradations seemed to perfect the aesthetic and rhetorical tendencies inherent in cursive. I never learned to write beautifully—my hand was dark, compressed, and flowless—and I abandoned cursive as soon as we were allowed to return to block letters sometime in junior high. This was a victory not just for physiological freedom but for words themselves, the recovery of their true alphabetic face from maniacal involutions of line as the cramped, undulating, doodled signatures resolved into simple parts neatly combined.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Circle pictures

yarntondo

Hilary Irons, Yarn Tondo, 2007, Oil, acrylic, yarn and glue on canvas, 12 inches diameter

A careful chalkboard drawing of a different sort of spherical unitary dual can be found at What is a representation?.

Last week's Economist tells of a recent breakthrough in the science of surface and symmetry, the mapping of the mathematical object known as E8, a mathematical object that is symmetrical on 248 axes. It is crudely pictured below in two dimensions.

E8

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Different trains

Everyone who has seen the Martín Ramírez retrospective at the American Folk Art Museum has something to say about the trains. We’ll look at some trains, and then consider a few remarks critics have made. The critics share a commitment to viewing Ramírez as an artist, full stop, rather than as an “outsider artist”—“self-taught artist” is this season’s preferred clumsy euphemism—and their progressive spirit leads them to neglect the interpretive relevance of Ramírez’s schizophrenia. I think that magical thinking, metaphysical hypotheses, and non-typical beliefs about the nature and cause of mental events might matter in understanding his work. But the best way to honor Ramírez as an artist is to look at his drawings; the psychological themes I’m interested in are, I think, right there. To the trains!

alamentosa

train2

train

man at desk

Víctor M. Espinosa and Kristin E. Espinosa suggest a biographical reading:
Trains, of course, had an important place in Ramírez’s life as an immigrant. He was born in 1895, just eight years after Los Altos de Jalisco was connected to California by railway. As many Mexican immigrants did at that time, he traveled north to the border by train, crossed into the United States at El Paso, Texas, and then traveled to contracting centers in San Antonio. There, like thousands before and after him, he could board other trains headed for California, Kansas, and Illinois. In northern California, Ramírez worked at mines and in the railroad industry; the railroad tracks were never far away.
Victor Zamudio-Taylor proposes a cultural-historical reading:
[…]the “fire horse”—as trains were called by Native Americans and peasants in Mexico—broke down premodern economic, social, and cultural constructs, leaving people with premodern backgrounds and traditions at odds with a changing universe, if not in a cultural limbo or Nepantla—the cultural in-between state of a person trapped in a new world that is both incomprehensible and frightening but also at least partly desirable. This may explain Martín Ramírez’s obsession with trains and tunnels, which he represents in closed, hermetic, dense, and engulfing settings.
There’s Sanford Schwartz’s sociological reading:
There are roadways, tunnels, and cars of every vintage, yet the roadways are so many detoured paths or dead ends, and Ramírez’s subject might be urban confusion in itself.
And Daniel Baumann’s formalist reading:
Where does this train go to? To Drawing City.
Let’s consider a couple remarks in greater depth:

Roberta Smith:
Rhythmic surfaces, plunging spaces and various modes of transportation (boats also shunt out of the tunnels, turning the roadways into canals) make visual the themes of distance and separation, isolation and longing.
transportation: The trains in these drawings don’t seem to be transporting anything—they are opaque and unpeopled, and there’s no indication that they might stop for us or Ramírez or anyone. They are not depicted as instrumental or tool-like or technological. They are not in the service of agents—they are agents. They run themselves in a world that is built for them, not us.

distance and separation: Whatever the geography (or geology) of the trains’ world might be, it is unknown to us. It may be true that Ramírez took a train from Mexico to California and never went back, but the trains in his drawings are shown without visible endpoints. The relevant termini are not home/away or past/present. The fundamental disjunct is between the world we see and whatever is on the other side.

isolation and longing: Ramirez’s work strikes me as affectless and objective; we do not long to be where the train is going. Our alienation from its world is constitutional, metaphysically necessary, and not really the sort of thing you can feel nostalgia or loss about. Horror and awe, maybe. Curiosity.

Brooke Davis Anderson:
Only the well-known photographer O. Winston Link obsessed as much as Ramírez over steam-engine trains; both artists seem to have been enthralled by the industrial genius and prowess trains embody.
the industrial genius and prowess trains embody: I agree, if what Anderson means is that the train itself is a sort of genius. It knows the interior of spaces we can see only occasional outer contours of. Moreover, it knows more than art does—it trundles off into the other side of abstract drawing space, into wherever art comes from. Or maybe the genius and prowess of the train is in this, that it constructs the world it drives around in, that the mental space that seems to be our own—the surface world of the drawnings—is neither private nor individual, but the product of a sublime agency whose workings are mostly well concealed and rarely glimpsed by neurotypical minds.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Campo Formio

Camp Studio, another vision-scaffold built vision-first, is now on line here. Judging from its two posts, it is a music-idea blog whose waves wave way out before echoing back to tell you the depth of the place.

oneplusone

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Look out

Imagine you are building the perfect lookout tower, a structure that will allow the best views of objects both up close and far away. All your effort goes into perfecting the view from inside the tower—it is as though you were building it from the inside. How the tower might appear to anyone not looking out of it has no influence on your work; the external structure follows entirely from the view outward.

This thought experiment occurred to me while I was looking for a way to make aesthetic sense of a sculpture at the Yale Art Gallery, an earthenware replica of a three-story temple whose manifest sensible form’s insistence on squares I found horrifying and inhuman. Perhaps it is uncharitable for interpretation of an artwork to begin by rejecting what it looks like (though such a strategy might be less crude than starting from the assumption that the work must have looked good to whoever made it). But imagine my hypothesis were true—if the form of the temple were nothing but the outer shape supporting an act of vision, and only accidentally a visible thing itself, what, then, would it mean for some second artist to exalt that form by making an earthenware sculpture of it? Locating the power of the thing in its inessential features can be gross idolatry, or it can be indirect, hermetic praise of a vision-moment that the artist recognizes cannot be made visible—if there can be no adequate representation of the thing, perhaps there is no better tribute than to name it falsely.

Monday, March 19, 2007

We are minerals

burden1

Like the Blue Marble photograph, Chris Burden’s Medusa’s Head offers us a view on our planetary home. It is tempting to regard the view as a scary one: if you could see the total effect of the industrial activity that sustains our present form of life, this is how it would look—ugly, Dickensian, not so green. True, maybe, but banal if you make a sculpture to say it. But we can insist on the ecological character of Burden’s vision while charitably rejecting the reading on which it is a facile work of cynicism. The clue is in the original Medusa myth: if you look directly at Medusa’s head, you will be turned to stone. Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, writing about the Russian scientist Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadksy, can help us articulate our alternate ecological reading of Burden's sculpture:
Vernadsky portrayed living matter as a geological force—indeed, the greatest of all geological forces. Life moves and transforms matter across oceans and continents. Life, as flying phosphorous-rich gulls, racing schools of mackerel, and sediment-churning polychaete worms, moves and chemically transforms the planet’s surface. […] the material of Earth’s crust has been packaged into myriad moving beings whose reproduction and growth break down matter on a global scale. People, for example, redistribute and concentrate oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, sulfur, phosphorous, and other elements of Earth’s crust into two-legged, upright forms that have an amazing propensity to wander across, dig into, and in countless other ways alter Earth’s surface. We are walking, talking minerals. (What is Life? page 49)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Squirrel life

You can imagine reincarnation in different ways. On one picture, your stint as whatever new creature begins at the beginning of its life cycle—you wink in, gestate, get born, etc. On another picture, you might turn up in some creature’s body already in the middle of things, suddenly aware of the scene around you, your claws gripping the branch as you look down at the ground, with a vivid perception of danger but no memory of any previous moment. It is easy to imagine that squirrels experience themselves this way. Each moment is a startling discontinuity, every change in the environment the destruction of wherever one just was, a fresh horror that reinvents one’s body as an anxious object in the wrong place.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Moonlight over Mars

Sitting in the movie theater before it got dark, I believed I heard the words moonlight over Mars floating from the speakers, a short-lived but magical mistake. Jazz standards deserve unusual celestial visions, complacency-destroying earthrises of perspective where you appear to yourself from someplace you are not, negations that give you back the world. I mean, you can’t really improve on “Moonlight in Vermont,” but it is worthwhile to project a little mental movie of Martian night while the melody resolves.

How perfect, then, that my friends’ new band should be called Suicide on Mars. You might think it’s easy to think of band names, but it’s hard, and this is a good one. It follows more or less logically from the idea life on Mars. It would be perfect for a tee-shirt you’d see at Hot Topic: it is a disaster/location name like “Panic at the Disco” or “The Arcade Fire,” and the Martian scene lends itself to illustration in red, white, and black, the nihilistic tricolor beloved by anarchism, fascism, and contemporary rock music. It names the weird space between mismatched power chords in Kurt Cobain’s songwriting. It refers to the most realistic suggestion for putting an astronaut on Mars: a one-way mission.

Carl Sagan worked on several Mars exploration projects, and he is said to have said, “Whatever the reason you’re on Mars, I’m glad you’re there, and I wish I was with you.” I hope to be there Friday night when the band plays at the Bookmill in Montague, MA.

P.S. Cancelled due to SNOW!

viking model

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Be

Walking to town the other day, I saw three girls up ahead sitting on the sidewalk—not on the curb or a lawn, but on the main you-walk-on-it part—and I was reminded of an age when the sidewalk, if you dared to experience it outside the defined routes of socially acceptable action, could be a site from which to view what is. In seventh grade, the concrete water district platform in a nearby suburban neighborhood—think of John Carpenter’s Halloween—became a meeting place for a club of girls who renamed themselves Freedom, Spirit, Wisdom, Beauty, and Justice; they drew goddesses on the platform in chalk and rode off on their bikes to find the steepest hill for the loudest, livest Yoko Ono screams that ever echoed through the pines of Hayford Heights. Any space was available for any purpose: you could dance and sing on the green in the middle of the rotary, sit on the concrete ledge by the gas pumps to take photographs, climb up through the overpass to a point between the north- and southbound lanes of I-95 to experience the speed of highway traffic on a human scale, lay in the street at four A.M. and wish that the world’s war-makers could feel what it was like to dissolve so perfectly peacefully into the dotscape of everything. As I got closer to the group, striped track suits and fuzzy headbands came into focus, and my vision of pure world-experiencers evaporated—the girls were doing stretches to get limber for a jog: to be in the world is to muscle through it, to drown it in private music, to use it for traction in anxious reshapings of your body.

Later in my walk, a second event recalled the open experience-space of adolescence: spray-painted on a telephone pole was the word Be. That message, written on yellow sticky notes, had appeared one day in odd corners of my junior high school. Be, in the water fountain alcove, on the tiled wall of the stairwell, in the heated vestibule where we’d crowd at recess. It was the work of Jessica and Josselyn, popular girls who didn’t typically make public their dabbling in big ideas. But on this day they would approach you with wild eyes and ask, Do you get it? Say yes and you’d get a sticky to wear to spread the message.

How living things keep time

Some scientific findings that would have fit nicely into Hans Castorp’s research at International Sanatorium Berghof.

Monday, February 19, 2007

His cosmos has its sun, perhaps, in death

Saturday afternoon I opened the Arcades Project at random (the only way I make progress in reading it) and found this mysterious, late-career dictum from Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the teenage poet-prodigy who infamously and tragically lost his flow in such a way that he couldn’t really even be said to have “quit” poetry but who reemerged as a giant of the Austrian theater:
What drives us into contemplation of the past is the similarity between what has been and our own life, which are somehow one being [ein Irgendwie-eins-Sein]. Through grasping this identity, we can transport ourselves into even the purest of all regions—into death. [S2,2]
Benjamin attempts to illuminate this dark saying by considering the case of Proust, who sustained a pretty long look at this somehow-one-being.

Late in an imaginatively rich but objectively indolent life, Proust’s narrator comes to see that the act of thinking is all there is; consciousness doesn’t exist outside its own activity, and memories not recovered and articulated in language are lost to oblivion. This recognition sets off an extended Scrooge-like Christmas Eve of repentence in which the narrator relives his life, or lives it for the first time, by writing the words you and I read in Remembrance of Things Past. All the spiral arms of narration swirl back to a central point of productive negativity, for consciousness can appear to itself as what it is only when it recognizes the imminence of its own non-being. Benjamin writes: “His cosmos has its sun, perhaps, in death, around which orbit the lived moments, the gathered things.” [S 2,3]

At night I walked to town to meet Hilary, and in the nightspace of blackness and artificial light I tried out this cosmology on everything—Henry James, Thomas Mann, Poe, Exile on Main St., cinema as such, Buddhist sculpture, Yale—imagining their elements in solar-systemic motion and looking for the impossible axis around which they turn, the singular, central Other that animates the images, that has no actual visible features but countless symbolic guises and a quite particular and unvarying narrative shape.

So I was quite interested when Hilary proposed that we join a couple of her classmates who were meeting at midnight to discuss black holes. Our symposium was brief and mildly occult, ranging over light, gravity, dimensionality, and holes-in-general before degenerating into a You-Tube session—a social arc perhaps familiar to my virtual peers. Someone called up the video for Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” a downward-spiraling corporate grunge number noteable for a weirdly paced riff that floats under the guitar solo. The basic story of the video is that some aerial, off-camera object (or non-object) appears over a Midwestern suburb, causing the faces of the locals who gaze upon it to lock in a frightening rictus that seems to signify a psychic shift into some entirely private state of pleasure. The video’s particular combination of makeup and mid-90s computer effects makes the suburb’s residents’ smiling faces look increasingly really sick and possibly already dead, which licences the inference that whatever they’re looking at is objectively bad even if on some level they're enjoying it. (This predates David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, in which a video—“the Entertainment"—whose content is never reliably narrated has the same sort of effect on the people who watch it.) There may be another midnight symposium next weekend, on string theory, a topic which at present fails to give me the existential willies.

The last sentence of Within a Budding Grove, the second novel of Remembrance of Things Past, concludes with an image that illustrates Benjamin’s necrotic sun almost too literally to count as a real test of his thesis. It is the end of the season in the seaside resort town of Balbec and the narrator must depart. He recalls the height of summer, when on doctor’s orders he was confined to his room at the Grand Hotel, shut up in darkness while Albertine and her friends frolicked on the beach, left to construct in imagination the day’s events from the light and sound that managed to penetrate the system of curtains arranged by his servant.
And after Françoise had removed her pins from the mouldings of the window-frame, taken down her various cloths, and drawn back the curtains, the summer day which she disclosed seemed as dead, as immemorially ancient as a sumptuously attired dynastic mummy from which our old servant had done no more than cautiously unwind the linen wrappings before displaying it to my gaze, embalmed in its vesture of gold.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Snow was general

A snow storm caused school to be cancelled on Wednesday, so I had time to write a proposal for the 33 1/3 series of books on rock albums. You can read a list of all the pitches they received; I was one of the three people who made a case for being uniquely qualified to write about Cheap Trick at Budokan.

The same snow storm, a couple New England states higher, caused Feathers to cancel a performance in New York. I wasn’t going to go, but was disappointed nonetheless—the show represented a hope that the band, non-existent for months, might not be done for. Maybe they were relieved—it’s almost always nice when something is cancelled, especially by a natural event (pray that our species is destroyed by a comet and not something we did!) and I imagine it’s annoying when everyone treats you as though you had some generational responsibility to spiritually redeem popular music—maybe I’d crash my motorbike, too. Maybe the cancellation is built into the idea of Feathers: if the whole idea is to make music on a human scale, infinite in creative scope but non-crazy in the circumstances of its production, you’re not going to care whether you succeed as a rock band. Maybe if you really believe in the sound of acoustic instruments, the spirit of group improvisation, the independence of aesthetic experience from commodification, the human voice unamplified, and the creativity of beginners—maybe if you believe in these things, you’ll play a short, perfect set and let it be a single, beautiful event in the history of the universe. Chords make rainbows; melodies grow out of the sentences you sing to yourself when you walk; you don’t need anyone to do it for you.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

This next one is the first song on our new album

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Movie review

I saw Children of Men last night. If you haven’t seen it, I think you should, and if you are lucky like I was, it’s still showing somewhere, maybe a giant multiplex movie theater out in the sprawl whose airport parking and neon tubing and way-technical sound and truly comfortable seats will remind you that you are watching a UNIVERSAL motion picture, for if you forget that Children of Men comes to you through corporate channels you will lose out on a good share of analytical pleasure later as you work through its—wait—the theater is getting dark…

A young, handsome man opens a can of Pepsi, and as he drinks, the red-white-blue, wave-in-circle logo on the can becomes a swirling, fluid ball, and it rolls the man away, down the spiral ramp of a parking garage and out into San Francisco, the articulations of whose traffic infrastructure have become bumpers and flippers in a pinball machine, the terminal shaft of which dumps the man into a stadium in Oakland, where the scoreboard declares “Free Play” as a bonus pinball rolls out like a movie boulder to absorb the man in a pleasure-sphere of unity with the product, which, since cola is a food and a drug, is basically what really happens when you drink it.

One puzzling close-up graphic makes the pinball look pocked and crumbling like a glossy-on-the-outside, mooncratered-on-the-inside foam ball you might have taken a bite out of as a child; I imagine the animators were using a sort of Rumsfeld logic—the fact that a technology exists gives you a reason to deploy it—and simply selected some function within their computer program, just because it was available, that turns an even stretch of image into yellow, rotten Nerf.

***

Imagine that your death is imminent and certain; what reason would you have not to push a button, at the moment of your death, that would destroy the entire universe?

The instructor of an Ethics course in which I was a TA presented this thought experiment to the class during the final meeting of the term, but before she could call on any of the three or four reliable hand-raisers (who in this class, by some miracle, were not twitchy, out-of-state, Honors College students looking to get the most out of their education but college radio underachievers who seemed to just like to think), the doors of the lecture hall opened and a half-dozen work-study students came walking down the aisles, symmetrically on the left and right, carrying boxes of Scan-tron fill-in-the-bubble course evaluations and No. 2 golf pencils. The instructor said a quick goodbye, and she and the other TAs and I gathered our stuff and left, done for the semester.

***

I think it was around the beginning of Reagan’s second term that I began to turn my growing powers of abstract thought to politics and war, and recognizing the prospect of the nuclear demise of the whole species really gave me the willies, more than my own death or my parents’. While my generation has no special historical claim on the fear of nuclear war, it’s a pretty profound, Carl Sagan-level experience for any intelligent-imaginative being, no matter its location in time and space, to recognize for the first time that its species has carefully and purposefully developed the capacity to destroy itself. To a child, it did not appear that the Cold War was almost over. No one taught us to stop, drop, and cover, but we knew about Reagan’s escalation of the arms race, and nuclear worry saturated popular culture. “Communism” was not a concept for me—the struggle between ideologies was not part of my education—I just knew there were two opposed world powers with massive, impossible arsenals, and that the deployment of one would automatically trigger the other. My brain burned with a question pretty much the opposite of the philosophy instructor’s: if you knew that the horrific destruction of you and your countrymen was imminent and certain, how could you wish the same fate on everyone else? I feared annihilation without warning, shelter life, radiological anamolies, etc., but the deepest existential dread and anger I reserved for the thought that my government would choose the destruction of the whole species if faced with the destruction of just its own part.

***

Carl Sagan dismisses the suggestion that the universal mystical-mythic content common to religious revelation and psychedelic experience is the function of some brain structure favored by natural selection, or even the accidental result of some naturally selected neural circuit’s getting fried.
The only alternative, so far as I can see, is that every human being, without exception, has already shared an experience like that of those travelers who return from the land of death: the sensation of flight; the emergence from darkness into light; an experience in which, at least sometimes, a heroic figure can be dimly perceived, bathed in radiance and glory. There is only one common experience that matches this description. It is called birth. (Broca’s Brain, 356-357)
***

I was jubilant when Hilary told me that a wild child had been discovered in Cambodia—maybe the last one in human history, I fantasized in sad, sick awe—but this Guardian article sobered me up pretty quick—it’s more likely that the girl survived not in the wilderness but in some terrible form of captivity, and that her disengagement and feral impulses are the result of years of abuse and neglect. I hope she will be treated well, with every form of love and comfort she can still experience.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Double Landscape

doublelandscape

Hilary Irons, Double Landscape with a Blue Tarp, 2006, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 26 x 36 inches

Monday, October 23, 2006

Fort Kahn

The Yale University Art Gallery has been undergoing renovation for years, and a banner that hung across the building this summer affirmed the necessity of the project (and ennobled the tardiness of its completion) with a quotation from the Gallery’s architect, Louis Kahn: Every time a student walks past a really urgent, expressive piece of architecture that belongs to his college, it can help reassure him that he does have that mind, does have that soul.

This weekend was Parents’ Weekend, a carnival vision of class mobility, in several senses (one of which nearly killed us as a coed steered her black Lexus SUV across our lane toward an open parking spot), and a suitable occasion for reflection on a subject broached by Kahn’s slogan: the conditions and scope of ownership of whatever cast of mind or soul is insured by official participation in a high-value educational brand, and the need to review and (especially) display the evidence of that participation. Some, the truest bearers of the soul-shape, walked the campus with the sort of pained and twisted hang of face that takes years of willful indifference and restraint to learn in that deep-muscular, even dermatological way that signifies serious quality, the stony, gray immobility of eyes bred not to respond to basic mammalian red flags. Some unself-conscious, lucky interlopers showed pride, awe, gratitude, and other human emotions appropriate to their child or grandchild’s attendance at a highly exclusive and by many measures objectively really good school, but such bumpkins were few; mutual class suspicion was the prevailing attitude among visiting parents. Moms especially—ladies checked out each other’s handbags with a fierceness unmatched by sneaker-peepers on the L-train.

As Hilary and I toured the Sterling Memorial Library with her parents, it occurred to me that the most “expressive” aspects of the architecture of Yale—those features most reflective of the activity of the mind—were not determined top-down by the high-concept architects who drafted out the shapes of things, but by the craftsmen who filled them with life: the vinework carved into the oaken doors, the little odd-angled castles and dwarfish men who pop out over doorways, the interlocking mahogany quatrefoils of impossibly high, arched ceilings. Kahn is interested in how the mind can meet itself in the world; I would argue that the hard, precise geometry enforced by modernist architecture—the stuff that an architect can really tightly control—is less suited to the natural tendencies/aspirations/images/movements of the soul than the ornaments shaped by nameless artisans whose architect-bosses allowed them, if not freedom of thought, freedom of gesture—the freedom of the eye and hand to follow an internal rule. One could argue that the soul the school’s more modernist architecture aims to reflect is itself determined to dominate, negate, and exclude, but I would rather believe that the truest students, anywhere, are those who would see themselves in, for example, the statue-figures carved into stone columns in one of the Sterling Library’s corridors: squashed, doughy-faced, Breugelesque men, each of whom personifies a different scholarly type: a sound-archivist laboring under the weight of his recording equipment; an obsessive collector of literary arcana breaking his brain over the mysterious “U. R. A.” in the text “U. R. A. JOKE”; a desperate reader gripping an open book as the Grim Reaper gently fingers his shoulder, the reader just glimpsing the crudely hewn Owl of Minerva perched at the edge of his vision.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Where I've been

July 12

Tonight I’ve been reading on the bed, golden orange ocean layers, rain mist glowing in; tea and chocolate. The reading has been successful: the sentences were improbable, lucky events in the universe, singularities, wellings-up into a present, the crests of a rush of time; more than that: owl-glassing to other headfuls of reading, the mind-space of other books visible down the big glasses, skimming like film unreeling down the side-caverns of looking: these glances seem to catch the infinite, the death desire of the hop between worlds, a pleasure promise fulfilled and felt but outside of knowing; nameless happiness; a reach of mind to which everything is present, every soul knowable in slow, private silence. There is, too, the gesture of will’s internalizing the means of this pleasure, shaping the props that support the visions, reasoning, forming the triggers, creating the conditions for lucky accidents: a room of one’s own, mine preferably open, rest, jobs done, no plans, reliable privacy, tea, book, paper and pen, no thematized readiness or strict course of action, just being somehow already guided. And where it goes: this self-space arena of wall imagery bending, motion spreads of pink and white Korean letters on bounded nightscapes unfolding, letter chains dealphabetizing in radiophonic scatter plots, fine mesh dotscapes of simple sound, where friends really meet friends, faceless, the mind knowing itself in action, visible in the color-banded trace trail of its movement.

July 17

I am thinking about the purity of the lucky accident unamplified, allowed to burst brightly and die, a luminous moment of connection left alone, not used or applied or extended or transferred; unrepresented, unresearched, unexcavated; grasped once in inarticulate fullness and never again approached in confused half measures, never wrongly remembered in insatiable desire, never pictured as an emissary from some greater kingdom, never discounted in future desperate flashing groping for the most distant evidence, the barest mention or crudest mock-up in decaying matter; you never have to mention it to people who wouldn’t understand, or to someone who would too enthusiastically assent; no merchandise bears its mark; there is no repetition of its circumstances. A whole science of human behavior could study the desperation of recall, all the false incantations, all the rituals drained dry, the objects of their prayer never again to come to presence, all the collectors of scraps, the hoarders hoping their fragments might be made whole in some future constellation shining out of the trash; all the dream visions from one’s past, every uncomprehending fantasy of absorption, every failure to grasp the thing whole, every object that radiated some inaccessible world, every walled-off source of knowledge, every picture of meaning and presence elsewhere, every gesture of faith in coherence, sun-shaped sense; the crass worship of the artifacts of this trust, the discarded outer forms of the thing that flees; the sadness of being older and trying to pull the same trigger, trying to make real the object of some impossible fantasy (actually falling asleep now

Monday, May 15, 2006

Split the stick—I am there

This morning I cut an apple in half to eat on my drive to work. I noticed later that the knife stroke had, by chance, cut the stem perfectly down the middle, leaving two symmetrical, curving halves. Their inner layers of color and texture were as distinct as an illustration in a textbook of pomology, and as detailed as any fibrous plant-slice one might mount on a slide and view through a microscope. I saved the pieces, and though the stem-cores, originally a vital green, have turned woody and reddish, the fact of the miracle is evident to anyone who might view them.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Untitled (Sky Bargello)

untitled

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The big way

GG, an American student I knew during my study-abroad year in Austria, had flown over with two suitcases, one with clothes and one distended with books, including a giant dictionary and a complete Shakespeare. His demands on the personalities of other people were unknowable but extremely strict, and he seemed to like only me and a cheery Fordham student who prayed before meals no matter the circumstances. G’s impatience with frivolity and noise were widely known and often ridiculed. Our program leader and German professor, who knew that I occasionally spoke with G, was concerned for his welfare, and he addressed me solemnly during an office-hours visit, suggesting that G was one of those rare people of whom it could be said that books had saved his life. This may have been the case—one may not express skepticism toward such claims—but I believed that if anything had saved G’s life that year, it was joining a farm-league baseball team and playing a circuit of rural sandlots in the outlying hamlets of Salzburg, for G, who grew up in the American Midwest, got to be the star pitcher.

It would be absurd for me to say that riding a bicycle has saved my life—it has more often jeopardized it—but I have often used cycling to recall its true character, and it was with this intention that I hauled my bike up from the cellar yesterday morning. I hadn’t decided my path in advance, but when I saw that a certain road sign had been graffitied with the words BIG WAY, I knew immediately to follow the route it indicated, for it seemed to me that these words, more than any other, expressed the essence of cycling. The route happened to be that of my final ride last season, and many things caught my eye that I had missed in September—rusting water district appendages capped with lids formed like the eyeholed hat worn by a character on Fat Albert, comically anglophilic names like “Hedgerow Lane” and “Thornhurst,” the grave of Rose Rodney (This world is not my home), a mailbox wound around with plastic autumn leaves and stickered with glittery letters announcing “PATHWAYS TO CONSCIOUSNESS” (I dared not to look inside)—but what impressed me most was everything I recognized perfectly by sight but had not thought of during my absence—particular houses, shapes of hills, stretches of shoulder, farmland vistas—old friends recalled to life only in perception. One wonders what elements of mind are distributed elsewhere in the world, offloaded into the things but waiting in permanent readiness for a drive-by retrieval.

Friday, March 31, 2006

If you ever have doubts about the rhinoceros watch it eat and look at its tongue

On June 13, 1998, I was at the Berlin Zoo, and I wrote these words:
I’m sitting by the rhinoceros listening to what Germans say about bad smells.

Gypsies. One is poking around in the grass on the other side of the fence with a crutch, trying to find an animal.

A red/white spiral ice cream treat

Ready for a nap; if I were on the other side of those bars, I could easily go to sleep

KÄNGURUHS

Ab nachm. 4 Uhr: Grosses Militär-Konzert

BITTE RUHE: Tiere neigen zur Panik
It is reasonable to assume that I could have taken notes on different aspects of my experience at the zoo: this bird, that child, other paths, signs, kiosks, etc. This is because I was writing about something real. Real things are like that: there’s a lot more you could say about them than what you do say. They aren’t used up in a particular form of words. If the conditions are right, you can return to the thing, experience it again, and get more words.

Not all of my journal is like this; some entries seem to have permanently lost their referent; the mode of life that produced them seems no longer to exist. Or perhaps the world I wished to describe was not just one that’s since gone missing, but a hallucination, a feverish dream-event not so much ineffable as unreal. I imagine that a similar skepticism has been felt by many writers who have dared to return to a record of vision and feeling and found themselves disappointed.

All of this is intended as an introduction to a long passage from The Varieties of Religious Experience in which James suggests that Hegel wrote philosophy in more or less the same way I wrote about the zoo: by experiencing one complex particular object and noting some of its salient features. It is standard for commentators to insist that Hegel's “phenomenology” is the gradual stepping out of consciousness on the world-historical stage, but James suggests that Hegel is a phenomenological philosopher in the vulgar, 20th-century sense, that he is a writer of an autobiography that, if you thought about it, would be the same as your own.
Some years ago I myself made some observations on this aspect of nitrous oxide intoxication, and reported them in print. One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken. It is that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question—for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determine attitudes though they cannot furnish formulas, and open a region though they fail to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality. Looking back on my own experiences, they all converge towards a kind of insight to which I cannot help ascribing some metaphysical significance. The keynote of it is invariably a reconciliation. It is as if the opposites of the world, whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity. Not only do they, as contrasted species, belong to one and the same genus, but one of the species, the nobler and better one, is itself the genus, and so soaks up and absorbs its opposite into itself. This is a dark saying, I know, when thus expressed in terms of common logic, but I cannot wholly escape from its authority. I feel as if it must mean something, something like what the hegelian philosophy means, if only could only lay hold of it more clearly. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear; to me the living sense of its reality only comes in the artificial mystic state of mind.1

1What reader of Hegel can doubt that that sense of a perfected Being with all its otherness soaked up into itself, which dominates his whole philosophy, must have come from the prominence in his consciousness of mystical moods like this, in most persons kept subliminal? The notion is thoroughly characteristic of the mystical level, and the Aufgabe of making it articulate was surely set to Hegel’s intellect by mystical feeling.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Taking tubs

Today is the birthday of a childhood friend, from whom I learned the expression “taking a tub.” This is not a common way of speaking about bathing, I don’t think; most of us would prefer to say “taking a bath.” But I like the strangeness—it helps me hear a connection to locutions like “taking tea” or “taking drugs,” a connection that is not merely verbal. For the physical trauma of a hot bath succeeds in exciting the wildest trains of philosophical thought in such a reliable fashion that one can use it, as one might a toxin, to alter consciousness that one might discover truths. Late yesterday afternoon I sunk underwater listening to “Tomorrow Never Knows” and believed that I understood being. Today’s tub reading revealed that Harry Haller, a paragon of the contemplative lifestyle, was himself a tub-taker; on the first page of his narration he recounts a day on which he “had lain in the bath and soaked in the heat”; my book is mercifully unwarped by the vapors, my flyleaf notes on the nature of analogy unsmudged.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

How I got into an argument

Fort Leaf, Fort Nest, Fort Thunder—the fort is a common trope in contemporary pop culture, evoking overgrown, crumbling battlements one might have visited with one’s family on a Sunday excursion, couch-cushion bivouacs, and all manner of defended overlooks from which one might peep the world beyond before retreating into the warm, woolen imagination-spaces of privacy.

From its inception, Fort Kant has wished to situate itself in this poetic space, and last Friday, had I not cancelled plans to visit a friend, Chris, and watch him perform at another Chutney Flats house show, I would have heard him dedicate his final song to Fort Kant:
This fort was taken once
Ten thousand years ago
And once again every summer and spring
By the winds of Mexico
Like a hollow log with a message tucked inside
And set upon the ocean for a ride
I have a particular soft spot for forts in Maine, and it was in defense of one of these that I nearly came to blows with a couple of self-proclaimed anarchists from Detroit.

On Tuesday, I drove up to Lewiston to see my friend Jacob, whose band, Extreme Animals, was playing a show at a “collective” called Bangarang. (Aside from the fliers wheat-pasted to the walls, the anti-globalization slogans on the fridge, and the requisite Beehive Plan Columbia banner, I couldn’t tell what made the house a more interesting or noble experiment in living than any house shared by roommates, though the principle of charity suggests that tenants’ engagement in the community probably extends beyond wearing trucker hats with the names of industrial businesses in neighboring towns and attending Bates College.) After the show—equal parts dance party and performance art—when people were milling about the kitchen, some visitors from Detroit, E. and W., decided to impress the band with tales of their exploits that afternoon. They had taken the ferry out to Peaks Island (part of the city of Portland, my home) and graffitied Battery Steele, a WWII-era artillery post that is now open to the public.

steele

W. produced a spray-painting stencil from her courier bag and offered it to the band as a gift. The image was a sort of devil face that she identified as something from V for Vendetta, a comic book and motion picture (starring Natalie Portman) that deals in some way with anarchist themes. E. and W. had just seen the movie (last weekend’s biggest box-office draw, according to a Yahoo! headline I happened to see), and they shared some choice quotes with the band; the principle of charity suggests that they might also have quoted Proudhon or Emma Goldman with equal ease. They promised to bring along some photos of their Battery Steele graffiti to an upcoming Extreme Animals show in Ann Arbor.

When I realized that calling the police wasn’t really an option, I decided to confront the vandals myself, challenging their action as arrogant, aesthetically and historically destructive, and insensitive to a community that they, as visitors, ought to have treated with respect. I also totally lost my cool and called them poseurs, etc., which I deeply regret, and which, moreover, is never very persuasive in an argument, though it is certainly the case that E. cut a poor figure defending his act as a strike against imperialist aggression while he opened the fridge to bag up the remaining cans from his Pabst Blue Ribbon 12-pack.

It’s hard to believe that the vandalism of E. and W. could have been intended as a political event, for a long disused fort on an island in Maine is a fairly absurd venue, and spray-painting a fairly meager statement. Nor should we see their action as mere posturing, akin to sewing an anti-WTO patch on one’s jacket or affixing a bumper sticker to one’s bike helmet. Rather, we should recognize their action as an advertisement for the motion picture V for Vendetta. Battery Steele has been branded. In this sense, they have succeeded in a political action: recasting a public good as corporate property.

Each crack in the concrete, each weed and patch of moss, each running stain of rust, its particular fade, makes a subtle claim to communication and rewards care with the discovery of something that exists only one place in the universe, gently; blazing above these, communicating with literally graphic violence, is a devil face, its edges determined not by an inner course of vitality, like a leaf’s edge, but by a distant original whose lines are transmitted through corporate channels to the X-ACTO knife of the deluded crust-punk whose stencil says, among other things, that its user has no idea what it would mean to DIY. The devil face that burns itself into brain after brain—this is the original sense of branding: a scar that can be recognized immediately, and whose coercive knowability functions to erase the particularity of its bearer. Communication, if it hails its addressee as a person, must leave her the space to dissent, to recontextualize, and to reinterpret, for you cannot understand or embrace as your own something you are not allowed to refuse. A stylized image rarely leaves its addressee this freedom; a declarative sentence sometimes does; natural and historical objects almost always do.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Recalled to life

A friend of ours is an amateur Portland historian/collector, and on Friday he showed me and Hilary his latest acquisition: a deck of playing cards, each bearing the image of some library, theater, park, or municipal building prominent in the life of the city at the time of the cards' manufacture. He found this rarity through a well-known electronic auction site, which fact Hilary considered a tremendous disappointment, and later, privately, she expressed surprise that someone might take pride in having advanced his collection by such unpoetical means. I was initially inclined to defend the collector, but I came around to Hilary's opinion on the influence of the provenance of artifacts on their aura and charm. The chain of events leading to our encounter with some object matters greatly to its power over us. Awe and wonder are reserved for the object that shows up by accident. An improbable object may arouse our interest, but an improbable discovery excites our feeling of life. (And if you set out looking for improbable discoveries, you may skunk the whole thing in advance.)

Perhaps it is a mark of the collector that he has abandoned concern for the object as an individual. However the object may be distinguished from others—as monophonic, pre-CBS, bound in signatures, or whatever—the collector values it not as a singular, inexplicable event in an experience of the world, but as a member of a kind, whose worth is determined by its place in a system of objects rather than by the unique grace of its arrival in a life. A collector may hope that some strange feature of the new acquisition will shock him as his old, original favorites once did, before he replaced his wonder at them with knowledge, but it is fruitless and contradictory to attempt to prepare such shocks for oneself. A true discovery presents itself not as so much fuel for a dying passion, but as a sublime discontinuity, announced with all the force of the recognition that there is something rather than nothing.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I’ll write my ideas on every page

So proclaimed a three-year-old girl as her mother was being rung up for a pocket-sized notebook at the art supply store downtown by the art college.

Writing ideas on every page has been a theme among my friends lately. One carries a new notebook of ideas to beat forgetfulness; another, who is wild about notebooks for purposes practical and impractical, bought a miniature graph paper pad for a third; a fourth is a notebook artist who fills spiral-bound notebooks with bars of neon color in every other ruled space.

Last Friday, on harrowing drive through the Berkshires, I had Hilary take dictation as I vocalized the few language-shaped thoughts that emerged involuntarily out of my white-knuckled concentration as I attempted to keep my car, purportedly “Made by Trolls in Trollhättan” but woefully unsuited to wintry conditions, on the road. Either the snow or the extreme topographical dynamism of the mountain pass would have been nerve-wracking enough on its own, but the combination elicited fight-or-flight nonsense repetitions, mantras related or unrelated to my alpine drive, placeholders to block the flow of propositional thought and to allow the brain’s deep predictive algorithms of physical nature to guide the hand without mediation.

Other notes of Hilary’s, factual/descriptive in nature, allow me to reconstruct sight-seeing highlights of the drive: the town in which Brigham Young was born, which, you can see why Utah landscapes might have had a certain appeal; Lill Tugan, a sort of depot or trading post whose name recalls “Grande Tuge,” a corruption of Beethoven’s “Große Fuge,” a supremely mind-boggling set of sounds of which a contemporary noise musician would be proud, had he or she composed it, especially while deaf; a housing development aptly named “Alpenwald”; LOGGING TRUCKS ENTERING; STEEP GRADES SHARP CURVES; BEAR XING; the town of Charlemont; “Hail to the Sunrise”, the name of, or an imperative issuing from, a sort of park of bungalows built around a sculpture of a green Mohawk Indian with his arms up, presumably hailing to the sunrise.