Monthly Archives: December 2006

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One day, on a crag, Time stopped him. "Who are you?" asked the hand on his shoulder. "I? Why, I’m just a witness." Time paused, but the hand did not stir. He remained mute, answering impossibility with impossibility. He hadn’t imagined that the moment would come so, or that when it came, he would need aught else but the willingness to speak and the story he had carried so long in his water-gourd.
 
 

“The battle of poetry is”

A battle with the self. It is my own dross I sift. I sing as I work, and try to lay the beat of my stamping feet to the song that comes and goes. It wafts to you as broken music. Solitary reapers, we all are, and all poets watching the reaping.

Repetition and the moment

It takes Murphy’s and Andy to help me through the connections.
 
The Austrians are leaving tomorrow, and I am witness to Andy’s pain. Meaning to make up for a missed birthday, he takes me out, and I spend some time watching other internationals say goodbye to half a year’s relationships. Matthias is there, too. I ask them what they are taking away. They tell me the answers to that question in bits and pieces all evening. "Debleena, you know you asked me…?" I stand, on the edge of the rink, and watch them all live.
 
On the way back, I say again how I would love to live in Europe and not here. Andy warns me, as we walk across the deserted night on the quad, that I should not misconstrue the openness of Europe. He says the fear of the stranger still haunts the little nation states that Europe had come to be, that history rooted in itself is shaken at every new wind. I tell him I have no illusions, but that this place kills my heart. I am exiled from my self, I have no wish to be exiled in place.
 
Andy and I speak of difficult literature in the dining room we have shared with so many others. Speak of how I would like to visit Vienna one day. That city of music and war, and the psychiatrists. Andy tells me of a writer who writes whole books on variations of a single act. In sentences half a page long, he combines and recombines the words to make sure the reader understands the point exactly. So that you live in the moment, a particle, suspended in fluidity. The art of repetition, explication and suspension telling more than the moment that is glimpsed. I tell him that it means the writer has understood the way words combine, the thing that holds compounds together. The alchemic secret. He praises Kafka; I tell him I understand Kafka, and Sartre, and Pound and Eliot, but that my sensibility gravitates to Calvino and Eco. The sentient masters. The difference between mind and gut.
 
He tells me of last year’s Nobel winner and the way she breaks over 50 pages of sexual explicitness the edifice of Austrian prudery she builds up over the rest of the novel.  I think of the function of that act–the flag that marks the suture. Here is the fault we seam out of our photographic existences, the errors of margin. Standard deviations. We speak of Henry Miller and Alberto Moravia. The ones who made me feel like I had bitten the dusty core of an apple when I read them. I hated them then, when I was young, for the way in which their work made me look at life and see decay. At the way they held up a rose and you saw the canker. The body moved across their pages, and all you saw was the shroud and papery skin; the illuminations were like harsh sunlight, they did not light up, they revealed. Looking back now, I am less antagonistic to the truth that binds the core–life is death, no matter how much we bare our teeth. Binaries, dancers, covalent things.
 
He tells me I should write. The second person in a week. I am smiling at life. We discuss form. And the possibilities for form to be like a many-leaved clover.
 
He sits there, struggling through transition, a sensitive young man passing through, and looks at the ceiling, the walls, the angles of this house. It is badly finished, obviously for graduate students, and he says how he will miss complaining about the insulation. He cannot believe he will be gone in a few hours. He recounts his closer associations with his American classmates in the last three weeks, and how, once he was no longer ‘that Austrian guy’ and had learned to speak his complex thoughts in coherent complex American ways, he was accepted and understood and how he found nice people. Matthias had said the same at Murphy’s, "You know, there are nice people everywhere."
 
Somehow we speak of childhood, and making friends and how one must eat and feel mud to be aware of the world around. We speak of fairy tales and fear, the weaponry of fear. He still fears the woods, he says, although he knows nothing will harm you unless it is harmed, because the woods take away the sense of protection these walls bring. Suddenly, we don’t matter. I remember a college expedition to a Santhal village, where I was spooked by a huge tree in the night. Spirits, we had said and laughed nervously. That other world, Andy says, and looks at me remembering a previous conversation on our shared belief that there must be another level of connective tissue to all that goes on. The sense of all things that we do not control. That is why we must feel mud and soil, and eat it, he says. To know, and to know so that we can speak of it. I agree. For I miss, suddenly, the feel of mud in the rains.
 
I want to come away and write this. He sits down, suddenly overcome with the passing. We part nonetheless, after looking at unvarnished woodwork. I remember Yeats, and how he had said that in order to write he had exiled himself from the dance except as witness and watcher. Truth. The thing is how you get at it. Sometimes it is by remembering.
 
My room feels deserted now. Not much has changed in this ghost-town. I shall spend another season looking after another house that is not my home. And what gives me pleasure shall soon give me pain.

No

Do not do it. When you would gladly give your life, do not give your self.
For only you want it, the one you wish to give it for does not want so terrific a thing. It is excess. Wasteful. To give of your self, before you give your self, consider if the taker is equal to the burden. Human? Then he cannot, for he has his own self to carry, Atlas and Sisyphus, groaning within his skin. He cannot take your generous shower, that bridal shower of bounty and good will; you would slake his thirst with your rains, but your monsoons drench his world with floods and mud. You would cradle the mountain with your clouds, but he cannot yield to your movements; he will only contain you, as water in the depths of rock.
Why do you cry, little girl? Did you not know (stupid little girl, listen as I rock you!:) even a petal hits the ground?
Do not do it. Only touch him for the moment, as is fitting. Keep your oceanful of desire aside today; the feast is not welcome. Take form as the winter dawn, too distant for him to fear, tell him stories to while away the omen of the long day. Remember, “Men saw the blush, and called it dawn.” Be as  summer cirrus, a benign streak on the tropical aquamarine, a bridge between the past and the future, day and night. Shondhyar dhrubotara. Shadhona. Be as desire. He knows you as none else.

The wheat and the chaff

To counterpoint any admiration for the windmills of this mind, here’s Adorno:
 
"Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway."

For a friend

"The good die first
  And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust
  Burn to the socket"
 
  –William Wordsworth, The Excursion, "The Wanderer," Book I.

Marianne Moore’s “Octopus”


We had a lively discussion in class today about Marianne Moore’s "Octopus" and its relationship to (American) nature poems as well as religious ones. We seemed to be able to reach a consensus on awe, the mounting fear that the closing of the poem slides away from like a breaking cap of ice but doesn’t quite address. Perhaps Moore knew what Dickinson knew:

"No man saw awe, nor to his house
Admitted he a man
Though by his awful residence
Has human nature been

Not deeming of his dread abode
Till laboring to flee
A grasp on contemplation laid
Detained vitality." [poem 1733]

That would chime with our reflections on the language, details, citational strategies and over-investment in description in "Octopus." We hover on the edge, out of our subjectivity through the quotations and the cinematic technique of the point of view in the poem; we remain close and yet never infused with the object, the way we may run our hands over ice or water and yet never imbibe its impersonality. ‘Nature’ surrounds us yet remains impervious to us–totaliter aliter, like our sense of god [and yet not John Updike’s god, "that men do not invent," for that God can reach us]. In that sense only can I agree with Cary that we can never be one with nature. Our conceptions separate us from the thing we nest within. [And yes, we may take up Derrida on this later.]

Human cognition of the object’s [ice-cap, mountain, nature, anything we look at] presence and effect takes place both through intellect and affect; Moore demonstrates that the process cannot occur without both in tandem. We approach the mountain and the ice in words, through syntax and the structure of grammar, which is not the structure of the ice or the rock or the periwinkle, yet all that is available to us. [Trapped by Reason and language, are we, having known ourselves as the most exalted of things that live?]

What does this poem give us that a mountaineer or a hike cannot? In other words, what does a poem do that more material things do not or cannot? I think it bequeaths the sense of perspective–here, not a sudden window but a hunter’s sighting, learned from the eagle’s eye–a momentary amalagmation of the distance and the presence, the act of holding together for the duration/span of the time-space of the poem both the human experience of its magnitude and magnificence’s indifference to the human and the conception of it. At the end we still have what the mountaineer can tell us or the hike can give us as experience–a sense of stepping outside our selfhood and a reduction of the sunrays of the human ego, a sense of what may be beyond our light, this…thing that moves and does not care. Just as we, bound rags on a spindle, move and do not care.


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