Feb 24, 2008

I read last night with Kate Pringle in the mixtape reading series, where folks read work by folks other than themselves. Kate and i each did several alternating chunks, which worked out well because it allowed us to go long in the most unobtrusive manner. Kate's setlist is on her and Maggie's blog, and here's my setlist:

There's a Monster at the End of This Book, starring furry, lovable Grover

MetaMagical Themas, Douglas Hofstadter. I read parts of the first chapter on self-referential sentences.

I Have Not Been Able to Get Through to Everyone, Anna Moschovakis. I read the first 3 poems from "Blue Book."

The second chunk of reading was a long part from The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien where Officer MacCruiskeen displays his sharp spear and intussuscepting chests.

The last chunk I read opened with the Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge poem "Dressing Up Our Pets" from her book Nest. I have lately taken to calling Kate "Kei-Kei," actually.

And I finished with three bits of short prose ("Rehabilitation", "Fedya Davidovich", and "The Fate of the Professor's Wife") from Daniil Kharms, from Today I Wrote Nothing.

If we had had an infinite amount of time, here's what I had at the ready all bookmarked:
-- selections from Emmanuel Hocquard's A Test of Solitude. I'd chosen a really good group of 7 poems which would have gone perfectly after the last thing that Kate read to end the reading. But I'm a little wary of how reverent I am of this book, and his Theory of Tables too. When he read here I wrote a big intro for him that's on Ken Rumble's blog.
-- the short story "Lorraine" by James Lewelling that I published in issue2 of Proliferation when I was in grad school. Jay Schwartz met Lewelling somehow, he was at UDenver and he has books out on Spuyten Duyvil and Calamari Press.
-- several non-consecutive sections from Robert Walser's Jakob von Gunten, which is pretty much my favorite novel. It's on project gutenberg. I had considered actually reading only Walser, no other writers.
-- the first two pages from Beverly Dahlen's A Reading (11-17), mainly because it pisses me off that more people haven't read her work. Section 14 is here.
-- the first 6 pages or so from the Richard Foreman play "My Head Was a Sledgehammer" from the Art+Performance anthology on him that Gerald Rabkin edited.
-- from English Synonyms, Antonyms, and Prepositions by James Fernald (copyright 1896) I selected the entry that explicates and differentiates the keyword "previous" from its synonyms (antecedent, anterior, earlier, foregoing, former, forward, front, introductory, precedent, preceding, preliminary, prior)
-- a section of Annie Dillard's For the Time Being that mulls the unearthing of Emperor Qin's terra cotta army, John Constable's descriptions of clouds, several approaches to "the mystery of human numbers," and Talmudic blessings considered at the Sea of Galilee. It actually gives me pain that I did not get around to reading from this book, I'm ashamed.
-- the opening 40% of Mary Burger's Bleeding Optimist. I would have liked to have read from her recent Sonny but I have not read it in a while and didn't get the chance to reacquaint myself with it. Here's a good interview with Mary.
-- some from Laura Moriarty's L'Archiviste.
-- two bits from interviews with Merce Cunningham, from the book The Dancer and the Dance. He addresses intention and vision.
-- the poem "A sequence" from Leslie Scalapino's that they were at the beach
-- various notes and jottings from two typotranslations of Marcel Duchamp's notes for the Large Glass and on the infrathin.

Feb 22, 2008

I saw the word geode in a poem and went on a dictionary journey.

Fissures and smaller cavities in rocks are called vugs. They fill with deposits of minerals or crystals, which can be corrosive and hollow out or fill stones such as limestone. A geode is a specialized vug. If a geode is solid all the way through it's called a nodule.

It's breathtaking and terrifying how suddenly and completely subjective language becomes with words like fissure and cavity. They're kind of the same thing, but then why do we have the two words, so they're not the same thing, so why? If you know these words you know that fissures and cavities both can form from an overlapping variety of processes (pressure, contraction & expansion, a sharp blow) so this is not a point of differentiation. How I think of it is that a fissure is small, maybe even not open, like a visible crack. A cavity is an opening. But obviously, by dint of being visible at all, a fissure is an opening, it's just too narrow to see with the naked eye. If I could electron-microscope-see then a fissure would look like the grand canyon. I can't see this way, and I'm not tiny, so when it comes to language about it the place where understanding is in play is at what point does a fissure open enough that it is no longer a fissure but a cavity. It would vary from person to person, a judgment call. But this variation in fissure/cavity degrees and resultant play in the language doesn't seem to matter. I use them as synonyms, I know they are not synonyms, I am still living and breathing. So the two words exist in order to express great specificity (and families of adjectives exist for both words for even further specificity) that I rarely or never need to express.

The size we human creatures are and our dexterity and our sensory abilities, these three qualities/conditions crammed into one thing determines the range of how we interact with our environment and the amount of nouns and their intussusceptions into granularity, and the adjectives we append to them. If we could electron microscope see (or touch or feel or smell or hear) then we would need realms more words. Entire concentric dictionary shells around the dictionary we know.

It's interesting because a clast is a rock fragment. But isn't it just as legitimate, when you break a rock into two clasts, to also or instead call them two rocks? A clast must be smallish, it comes from the Greek word for to break or to destroy. Hence an iconoclast is someone who destroys religious imagery or, in our secular age, someone who goes always against the grain. But shards are busted up rocks really small. It would be useful to have a geologist differentiate clast from shard. Like, if you break a rock into chunks, they're clasts, but if you smash the rock to utter bits then maybe they're shards? Isn't this just another instance of how our specificity vocabularies really only need to go as far as our relative sensory scale to the things we're talking about? And frankly a geologist's explication might not be useful at all to me, this might be why I don't know this differentiation in the first place, I've no stake in needing a differentiation other than curiosity. Or rather avoiding the anxiety that comes from a curiosity about things essentially uncertain (i.e. language and fucking everything else when you really look at it).

So by now it feels like the dictionaries are piling up on my chest.

Another thing that became apparent is how my usage and understanding of rock was kind of off. This isn't a word we'd think of as technical language or specificity vocabulary. In fact it's in one of those early layers of nouns that toddlers learn, before they're even forming anything close to a sentence. When the word's utterance is comparable to pointing at the thing. I taught Sadie this word last weekend, crouching in a gravel lot. But it has some specificity that I didn't realize because I never need it, nor does she. Though we easily could.

Words like stone and mineral I use as synonyms, overlapping or simply being the same as rock. But it seems that rocks and stones are things that are made of minerals. And that rocks can be made of stone. So a rock can be made of limestone, and limestone comprises organic calcium minerals like crushed shells. But I pretty much use them all as the same word, and that works out fine for me. Is this a problem? When might it be a problem?

A word like breccia really brings this out. It's a rock that forms when a bunch of clasts or rocks or shards and so forth are lying there (maybe from a rock collapse) and they get all filled in with sand maybe mixed into a concrete-like slurry with water, forming what's called a matrix, like a cross-section of a snickers bar. And all this hardens into completely solid and pressure makes it really hard so it becomes, so far as our interactions with it goes, one thing. Marble is said to be brecciated (nice adjectival form there). A rock in its own right, but comprising other rocks and things. Different rocks tumble down into a pile and become a single, different-again rock. So what does rock mean again? It gets subjective, like if I was a superman and could crumble marble in my hand like a loose dirt clod I wouldn't consider it a rock, so I would maybe think of it not as a single rock but as a clump of lots of other rocks and other stuff. And I probably wouldn't have the word breccia in my language. Or would I, maybe for some other reason? Description?

Words just fall through other words, though we still have to get up in the morning and live all day. We've no choice but to let them fall, or be two mirrors facing each other. If you are comfortable enough in your momentary situation to not need to ask "how big/small am I compared to it?" or "how do I open this object/situation as an idea or system to my understanding?" then you should be fine. But how often are we fine like this?

Anyway, the Giant's Causeway in Ireland is very cool. It's what's on the cover of Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy, remember?

Feb 20, 2008

Some of my co-workers had a sestina contest with the same set of end-words so i made this.
i know i have only written epigram-single-sentences for some time now and i wonder about my lack of inclination to do anything other than that but am not immediately planning any intentional changes or divertissements.

After a certain sequence of events are set into motion by external conditions, a tree produces a bud.
Experience typically converts to recollection.
No tree is said to be agile.
Fictions accrete to turn a city into an effectively infinite city.
Everything that has been done was possible.
Falsely, aesthetics are said to be sacrificed to increase efficiency.

Brevity and rigidity are commonly considered efficient.
One could take double the sum of the total human output of language to describe a tree bud.
Death is impossible.
An imaging of the infinite is implied in every collection.
A certain sequence of events set into motion is called electricity.
By dint of having its growth cycle described, something is made no more or less agile.

Given forward-moving linear time, all collections are conceptually fragile.
One cannot be efficient because one cannot be efficient.
There is no obvious border to a city.
There is no exact or consistently recognizable moment when a rapidly specializing part of a tree becomes what we call a bud.
Questions, regardless of whether one can answer them, collect.
When one says something is impossible, one means that one thinks it is impossible.

Consideration of limitations is a method used to determine possibility.
While considering the feasibility of an idea, one must be mentally available and agile.
The desperate hoard; the wealthy collect.
One’s condition determines the reality of one’s efficiency.
A tree does not decide whether or not to grow a particular bud.
All cities are not the same city.

Viruses preceded cities, though the word “virus” was created after the word “city,” so people use “viral” to describe the growth of a city.
To describe the spread of a virus as “urban” must be allowed to be possible.
A language can do nothing, nor allow its users to do anything, about a tree’s bud.
Recklessness, for a time mensurable by degrees, is permitted by agility.
Stasis, though comprehensively undesirable, is the implied ultimate in common conceptualizations of efficiency.
One cannot complete a collection.

Survival powers the urge to collect.
No one lives long enough or has the right awareness to see the complete growth cycle of a city.
Nothing is efficient.
Efficiency -- in that it is an idea, concept, and word -- must be possible.
The agile enjoy their agility.
What we call a thing is really a phase: a bud.

In order to be popularly recognized as efficient, one must be vigilant and ready at all times to be agile.
Within the idea of a city, all cities collect.
It is impossible for a word to be a tree’s bud.

Feb 17, 2008

Sadie has been talking a lot this weekend.

Feb 16, 2008

My head feels cottony, like a taxidermist did it, and my throat is tender. Still, I know I'm not all the way sick because I am still craving and drinking coffee. The siltiness of french press, where you touch your teeth together to feel it almost tacky.

I saw a remarkable thing today. Or maybe not remarkable. In any case I'd never seen it happen before so I am remarking upon it. As I was driving up a neighborhood street, I saw I think it was a catbird flying along pacing the car, swooping at about eye level in the airspace above the oncoming traffic lane. And then it just dropped out of the air and bang landed on the pavement like it had died in flight. It didn't even skid when it hit. I hesitated and passed the bird and then looked in my side mirror to see it lying still on the asphalt with I guess a wing sticking up, the elbow of it. Then after maybe three four seconds it abruptly rolled to its feet and took off all in one motion. It was gone before I was really done looking at it trying to figure out how and why it fell out of the air.

It's hard to see something that you don't understand or can't make yourself understand even with a plausibility. There's a condition from brain damage called agnosia that's something like this, in which a person recognizes common objects as such but cannot recall or figure out the word for or function of that object. It must be unbearably frustrating. Or else the ultimate relief and calmness, aside from death.

Feb 14, 2008

After last night dining with David and Kate and Maggie and talking about dreams, I this morning dreamed something of a version of a dream that recurred for a long stretch of my adolescence. Or at least a recurring object, the events of the old dream didn't recur.

It's a triangular book, somehow having a spine along each edge, making it a single book that can be opened three ways. If you open it one way, everything becomes fire -- not that everything is on fire, everything is made of living, raging fire, all substance comprises fire. As if the periodic table had only one element on it -- fire. Another way of opening the book makes everything water in this way, and the third way makes everything wind. It's not a wonderful thing, it's awful. The fire in particular. Actually I remember the wind was kind of wonderful, the feeling of it. The other two were like being perpetually held in the exact moment of burning or drowning to death. The book is old and leatherbound and has bulky clasps on it like the book in raiders of the lost ark that indiana jones shows the government guys the pictures in of beams of eradicating power coming from the ark.

So last night I dreamed I was on a city bus at night with this book sitting in my lap with my hands folded on top of it. It was very cold and my shoes were wet. The lights at the back of the bus were flickering, the fluorescent bulbs were on the fritz. A bunch of boys around 8 or 9 years old were crowded together sitting on the rear seat of the bus, shoving each other playfully and laughing, which annoyed me. I wanted it quiet. For some reason I had to maintain great concentration in order to not open the book, I needed to keep myself from opening the book. If my attention to this wavered, I would sort of automatically or reflexively open the book, like a pair of hands would with any book on one's lap on a bus at night, not even to read it, just to hold a book open in one's hands for the bus ride. I wondered why these obnoxious kids were out at night unchaperoned. And in my head I made an image of raising my hand in front of me and bringing it slowly down like a karate chop, and this bifurcated my ability to concentrate so I could continue to keep myself from opening the elemental book while using the cleaved-off new chunk of concentration to direct some slow-motion-ness power at the boys in the back. It was like I split my eyes off of each other. My right eye was able to look straight down at the book on my lap, watching my hands to make sure they didn't open it. And my left eye was swiveled up and away toward the boys. They slowed to half speed and quarter speed and were still horsing around but now they sounded low and slurred and echoey so they didn't bother me hardly at all. The lights kept flickering at regular speed though, and the image of the boys was kind of smeared like low-res video.

Anyway it worked, I didn't open the book.

Feb 3, 2008

Despite the loveliness of the day, I cannot get my children to go outside. I've offered banana splits at Ben&Jerry's -- the holy grail of inducements -- but no. That merely prompted Iris to declare that we should stay here and make smoothies. Iris and a friend are playing some kind of revolutionary game -- they've used all my chemistry equipment to concoct colorful poisons that are being administered to various officials of governments foreign and our own. The president (not Bush, a fictional one), for instance, has died once, been brought back to life, and is now in his second death throes.

Sadie cracked her eye yesterday on a metal bench and has a swollen gash. I have been calling her Rocky and making a lot of references to Talia Shire, Mr. T, and the city of Philadelphia in general. She thinks I am hilarious.

This weekend, Sadie has been very into the alphabet and magic markers. Right now she is feeding me chicken nugget bites.

Iris has poisoned the ocean. One cannot sail upon it until it has been "unpoisoned." Iris, who is now president of the united states (the old one didn't survive his second poisoning), needs to sail to west africa to go to the british museum there. She has emailed west africa about this.

My $9 biglots coffeemaker is in the trash can. I'm going with french press for now. Some things you just can't go cheap on.

Aha, we have to suddenly go to the playground now, I think it has something to do with avoiding the poisoned ocean. Sadie is a spy.