30 July 2006


Discussion over at Andy's place about the relation of gay rights to the War of Terror and economic populism in Latin America.

28 July 2006

Birthday boy

reports of my limbs
will go unrecorded
unless you can whisper it
to me over the television.

-Buck Downs, from ‘dumb-bucket’

25 July 2006

On mimesis

Teenagers, children, fight over mimesis. What to be, which to be, how to be, why to be but usually which, like in a game show. Poets sometimes do when they have the energy to be like children. The great wars of adults used to be over mimesis until the war mongers came to rule like tyrants through their pocketbooks, killing whomever they can get away with killing in the late stages of their decline. But the wars over mimesis were always worse, the lords say. I say goodbye to them and I say it slowly.

Journal: Hunger method

I’ve had a job cooking for thieves. A novelty at first, and as the weeks mounted I began to cook that which was so obscure or forbidding-looking that only the truly hungry would eat, and that would work for a while. Then there was the matter of my hunger, and I decided to take things further and concoct whatever caught my fancy and was truly unappetizing looking. Then my boss, behind on payroll, asked me what I was cooking for if only I ate it. Word amongst the thieves is that he has cash flow problems.

This is not my literary method, if only it were! But I try to approximate it sometimes, like I do with anything that leaves a good taste in the mouth.

16 July 2006

The emptying of fate

The Quechua language does not have words for the future. They have a active (not passive) future imperfect tense that allows syllables to be added to verbs that suggest an individual will (I will be, I will desire, I will love) and the “sunchi” suffix that suggests a collective action in the immediate future “Let’s eat.”

Lyn Hejinian’s “The Fatalist” ends with the lines:

That’s what fate is: whatever’s happened
-Time regained.

One way to read this book is to graph it in relation to its verb tenses, as there would seem to be a statement about fate and tense that can only be aptly elaborated by the text itself.

Like the ‘fate-texts’ I have listed on the previous post, Hejinian’s work throughout her career has tended to have a narrative component. ‘My Life’ sought to make parataxic phrases rigorous by using them to express a personal history. The structure of the work is tied indelibly to time, because just as every year one lives is of equal duration, each year of Hejinian’s life is given equal space.

Bob Perelman’s analysis (Marginalization) of the relation between parataxis and capitalism suggests a kind of Road Runner - Coyote relation between langpo and the economic base. A critic makes the assertion that Ronald Reagan (or W) is a language poet because of his use of parataxis, or that the ‘many walks of life’ montages of TV commercials are also so juxtaposed, following what had been an attempt on the part of Langpoets to develop a linguistic method that escapes the capitalist determinations of the fate of the Victorian narrative.

The determination of poets to escape the influence of the economic base relates to my comment two months ago (before I read “The Fatalist“), reprinted in a post below, that Langpo “dealt with fate at the level of the surface of the work,” in a way that creates an Althusserian critique of caste and karma without spiritualist affectations. Hejinian’s book “Oxota: A Short Russian Novel” was written during her trip to Leningrad where she was told by a USSR native that it was natural for them to see language as commodities.

Looking at another excerpt that addresses fate directly:

The upended woman on her head on a potato
is exactly what is needed to devise
an elegant argument in which the limiting condition
known as “fate” and the limiting condition
known as “beginning” merge to create
an unfated ongoing incipience into which fate can accumulate
without determining anything, not even my mother’s name
and intellectual curiosity
which explains my presence, Samuel Johnson’s fear
of ceaseless useless motion, and the characteristic heterogeneity
of Language writing, the mark of its relationship to knowledge.

Those eleven lines light a maze of interpretive alleyways, but I want to focus on “unfated ongoing incipience into which fate can accumulate” and “fear of ceaseless useless motion.”

“unfated ongoing incipience into which fate can accumulate”:

Jain teachings, considered the most complex and self-determining treatment of fate in the Indian tradition, conceive of karma as an influx, “asrava,” which fills and empties within the “karmana-shahira,” the innermost of the five bodies of the human being. The emptying of fate is experienced by the siddhas, who are without spatial location, similar to not “determining anything.” The history of existentialism can be viewed as an independent realization of Jain philosophy.

“fear of ceaseless useless motion”

It has been proven that Mallarmé and Nietzsche were not influenced by each other, but as exemplars of poetry and philosophy they have each constructed the image of the eternal dice roll.

Gilles Deleuze in ‘Nietzsche and Philosophy’ charts the similarities and differences between A Throw of the Dice Does Not Abolish Chance and the texts of the Eternal Return. Where the two agree is that (1) thought is a dice roll; (2) man does not know how to think; (3) the act of thinking is infinitely irrational, absurd, tragic, and superhuman, (4) the totality of dice throws constitutes the outcome and justification of art and the world.

The difference Deleuze notes is a key one, that Mallarmé wishes for chance to be abolished, in a gesture that abolishes subjectivity, absurdity, and tragedy, while Nietzsche affirms the dice throw, believing life to be an aspect of a finite but countless Dionysian series of ‘throws’ which constitutes the totality of existence. So the “fear of ceaseless useless motion” Hejinian attributes to Samuel Johnson could be viewed as the Mallarméan fear of subjectivity in deference to justice and pure essence.

More to come…

14 July 2006

Une petite absence

There's never been a rock and roll band called Puffed Rice, and I have no intention of starting one.

13 July 2006

Diderot and the Vedas

More notes as I await Hejinian’s “The Fatalist”:

The rediscovery of Diderot’s fiction for the 20th Century coincided with the discovery of Sanskrit philosophy by the West. Shortly after J.J. Mayoux said “For Diderot’s philosophical mind literature is a subtle game, an Indian magic, a means of throwing ropes into the air and holding them there,” (1936), Rene Daumal wrote “To Approach the Hindu Poetic Art,” in which he noted the three levels of meaning in the sacred text: literal, derived (metaphoric), and suggestive (irreducible by logical inference).

As discursive prose can only meander before the enigma of fate, so narrative form has taken to a picaresque worldly incarnation of this meandering before fate: Gargantua and Pantagruel, Don Quixote, Tristram Shandy, Zadig, Candide, Jacque the Fatalist and His Master, A Hero of Our Time, Maldorer, Nadja, Ulysses. The artistry of these texts are by nature retreated from by their successors rather than built upon, with Charles Olson’s insistence that Ulysses not be discussed at Black Mountain a classic illustration.

The development of literary symbolism in the West was independent of its Eastern equivalents but responded to the same human imperatives. Baudelaire’s “Correspondences” sought a synathesia of literal and figurative symbols that represented the unity of matter and spirit sought in Hindu practice. Lukács in his Marxist period believed that Realism presented a totality of human experience but believed it succeeded when it represented the different walks of life in a prehistory rather than in reflection, as is the case in Diderot rather than the Naturalists.

In Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” the symbolic bird of the title is sacrificed to the melancholy of the romantic protagonist and interpreted by the dramatis personae that resemble the caste identities of the Vedas: desire, duty, materialism, and deliverance. The play within a play, which is a version of “Correspondences,” portrays the reception of symbolist decadence within the narrative convention of the time and is, like the seagull, interpreted by the incarnations of the Vedas including the novelist, which can be an aspect of Chekhov. Chekhov’s appreciation for the innovations of decadence was notably lacking in Tolstoy.

So Jacque the Fatalist and His Master addresses the concept of fate through the prism of caste, as the servant is content with not knowing fate’s determination of his future and the master is undone by fixation on unattainable self-determination. Jacques has been called the first working class protagonist in modern fiction, and Marx and Engels were dedicated readers of Diderot, giving rise to his adaptation by Soviet theorists whose primary criticism of him was his 'lack' of scientific methods of analysis.

OK the book’s here finally…

11 July 2006

Eulogy for a blog name

Piri' Miri Muli' is the standard Raramuri “good morning” greeting, which translates as “what did you dream last night?” They have a lot of time to think in relative isolation in those canyons with no TV or blogs. With all the grad students in anthropology, linguistics, literature, etc., I’m struck by how the many Amerindian languages continue to be untranslated. I think we need more grad students.

All About Your Caste punned on Wyndham Lewis’ statement “Yourself is your caste” in the Code of the Herdsman, which was written during the late stages of a long literary silence that was followed by a long prolific period. In that way the logical self=caste creates a semantic “It’s about me,” or more accurately, “it’s about you (the reader),” not the essentialized reader, but the actual individual reader that reads, since groups don’t read despite the ongoing and persistent efforts of many to exploit that potentiality. The expectation often is that one’s awareness of ‘reader’ is determined by awareness of ‘self.’

As my blog has functioned as an anti-block exercise the potential for misunderstanding that “All About Your Caste” presents has been welcome, since the potential for misunderstanding is a component of blockage. It is no accident that the capacity of the PBMI (potential of being misunderstood as insensitive) block is acted on directly by the Flarf aesthetic, where statements deemed unacceptable by editorial standards become the source of inspiration.

Caste as a political phenomenon today gets addressed infrequently in political discussion except by the Durban Conference and C.A. Conrad. It is against literary fashion to (1) address class and (2) to disagree with the American notion of a meritocracy. As for the latter, I don’t -- America is distinguished from Europe and India by the lack of rigidity in class structure.

It is precisely this difference that often inhibits socialist organization in America -- the social psychology descended from aristocracy in Europe creates a heightened sense that the working classes are stuck in their position and must organize themselves accordingly. American political dominance in an era its academics call “post-colonial” derives itself partially from the same academies attracting ambitious and talented students from around the world who are confident that they will get at least more of a chance to be affluent and respected here than elsewhere.

This phenomenon intertwines the literary theme of socialist emancipation with the theme of fate, which is intertwined with the echoes of religious order. It is the belief in fate in Hindu religion that cements the caste psychology. The mythology of the War on Terror existing astride the Huntingtyama propagandists' view of Islam is that of a conflict between an agnostic view of fate and a sectarian one.

Steinbeck could be accused by Lewis’ same “Code” document of “mistreating his intelligence with parables” regarding fate, at the height of a socialist aesthetic. I am inclined to believe that the novelistic exploration of fate has declined since the buoyant irony of Cervantes and Lermontov, with the overly programmatic treatments of the subject by Tolstoy in War and Peace and Sartre in the Roads of Freedom trilogy being the byproducts of the cult of literary criticism and ‘the masterpiece.’

Looking at modernity-post-modernity through the prism of fate, Surrealism dealt with fate in a way that can‘t be summarized, but extending out Rimbaud‘s ‘change life,’ followed by Existentialism that dealt with fate at the level of action, deconstructionism that dealt with fate at the level of consciousness, and Langpo that dealt with fate at the level of the surface of the work.

Both the Hindu religion and Amerindian traditions are more advanced with regard to fate and its determination on consciousness than deconstructionism, structuralism (despite Lévi-Strauss' interventions) and its related discourses because of the necessary abandonment of method, scientific or other, and the thousands of years of evolution that those ‘mythologies’ have undergone.

Lyn Hejinian’s Langpo-post-langpo riff on Diderot -- “The Fatalist” is treated comprehensively in a new batch of essays on Andy Gricevich’s blog.. The good folks at the bookselling site tell me my copy is somewhere between Philly and here.

Anthropologists love fertility rites; I had perhaps conveniently forgotten this aspect of the recently deceased blog name until I had a few hours to bestow on it the anthropological gaze.

Bourdieu noted in ‘Distinction’ how caste psychology increased fertility, citing a 1971 study that workers with a less than 4.3% chance of access to the ‘dominant class’ have the highest birthrate (2.1 avg. children for a skilled worker to 3 for an unskilled farm worker), followed only by those with a more than 35% chance of access to the dominant class. Bourdieu:

“As soon as the chances of access to the dominant class (or, which amounts to the same thing, to the instruments which can provide it, such as the higher-education system) reach a certain threshold, among foremen and office workers, fertility rates fall markedly…. In the middle classes, where chances of mobility are comparatively greater, fertility remains at a minimum; in the dominant class, the fertility rate rises strongly again, showing that biological reproduction does not fulfill the same function in the system of reproduction strategies of these categories, who only have to maintain their position.” (332-3)

So the name All About Your Caste was a fertility charm, and who can use such a thing more than the blogging subculture?

09 July 2006

where yr going

Books by Creeley that would make a good name for your car:

1. The Immoral Proposition
2. A Kind of Act Of
3. Away
4. Memory Gardens
5. The Finger
6. Window
7. The Door
8. His Idea
9. The Old Days
10. The Charm

Books by Creeley that would not make a good name for your car:

1. Life and Death
2. Pieces
3. Backwards
4. Divisions
5. Thirty Things
6. Desultory Days
7. Mother’s Voice
8. Echoes
9. It
10. Listen

06 July 2006

National sport

That’d be some night on the Zócalo, if 2.5 million ballots had gone missing AND the soccer team advanced to the finals, plus Italy deserves it…

03 July 2006

On Theory

People sometimes insinuate that I am overly preoccupied with literary theory, but you’ll notice I tend to discuss it on other people’s blogs.

Irony as history

Do I experience more irony than history? Do I desire irony more than I desire history?

This evening I have initially misread “history” as “irony” in the video inscription on Pipilotti Rist's lips in the lower right hand corner of “Suburb Brain":

Three thousand years of philosophical history,
brother brother I recognize myself again,
physics and ethics. Back to these three.

Be sure to click on “Selfless in the Bath of Lava” and to run one’s cursor over “Himalaya Sister‘s Living Room,” “I Can’t Agree With You More,” and the Mythenquai series.