Friday, March 27, 2009

Myth & Theory: Babbling, Procrastination & Babel

First, the procrastination. This week has been one of fiddle farting and might be characterized by this "poem."

Note: I consider myself no poet, but...

The way this works is as you click on each stanza you'll go to a wordle cloud. Then when you return to the poem, the part you've read will have disappeared. And each wordle word cloud gets smaller with each ensuing stanza.

It also seems each word cloud might be another poem randomly generated from the remnant stanzas.

Of course this is stupid and duh. But I'm procrastinating...farting around rather than writing my novel…

This may also be a humorous poem, intended as a joke [perhaps validating the intentional fallacy, making Wimsatt rather Beardsley]. For instance, "Myskin" seems a proper noun and in its context, seems an event. “Meta-For” and “Odd-Appeal” are perhaps the proper names of people.

Or not.

What a waste of time, or was/is it? I don't know. You decide...


Word/Wound de Meta-For sutures Odd-Appeal during Myskin, sweating Inside-Out

vibrating like This the Simile sewing Its scattered Black Hole Ashes, blowing Saturated Trombone

awareness as Onset de Mew-Tate Offspring stitching Redundant Emergencies, perverting Chaos into Arabesque Patterns of Itits Loving

regardless of Him Orher


Poet and BlazeVox[books] publisher Geoffrey Gatza informed me at last weekend’s wildly successful Buffalo Small Press Bookfair that the cover of my novel, Smoke, which he designed, is a photograph!

This blew my mind as I was certain it was a work from Photoshop. It turns out he’s a sharpshooter and shot a series of photos of “Cloud Gate” by British artist Anish Kapoor in Chicago’s Millennium Park while attending the AWP conference in February.

Here are the links to these amazing pictures:

And here is the whole set of images around it. They start about half way down:

My favorite:

These photos remind me of my limited understanding of M-Theory, which is related to string theory. M-theory states the big bang was actually the membranes of two universes colliding. The sparks from that collision and ensuing friction seams the observable matter of this universe or dimension. All we perceive and reflect-project-express—among them language and art—seems to seam reflections on this membrane, or brane as some pros may have it. So appearances change as we and "others" move through space time [consider Escher].

Gatza’s photos of Kapoor’s work seems to me a representation of mind-matter-energy in motion...a river-like progression projecting/reflecting cognitive material energy confronting space-time and scooping out portions of it with a camera lens.

And one of these spoonfuls made the cover for my novel.

For more info see:

"What I wanted to do in Millennium Park is make something that would engage the Chicago skyline…so that one will see the clouds kind of floating in, with those very tall buildings reflected in the work. And then, since it is in the form of a gate, the participant, the viewer, will be able to enter into this very deep chamber that does, in a way, the same thing to one's reflection as the exterior of the piece is doing to the reflection of the city around."

-Anish Kapoor

An excerpt from Kapoor’s Wikipedia article:

"Kapoor's pieces are frequently simple, curved forms, usually monochromatic and brightly coloured. Most often, the intention is to engage the viewer, evoking mystery through the works' dark cavities, awe through their size and simple beauty, tactility through their inviting surfaces and fascination through their reflective facades. His early pieces rely on powder pigment to cover the works and the floor around them. This practice was inspired by the mounds of brightly coloured pigment in the markets and temples of India. His later works are made of solid, quarried stone, many of which have carved apertures and cavities, often alluding to, and playing with, dualities (earth-sky, matter-spirit, lightness-darkness, visible-invisible, conscious-unconscious, male-female and body-mind). His most recent works are mirror-like, reflecting or distorting the viewer and surroundings.

"When asked if engagement with people and places is the key to successful public art, Kapoor said, 'I’m thinking about the mythical wonders of the world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Tower of Babel. It’s as if the collective will comes up with something that has resonance on an individual level and so becomes mythic. I can claim to take that as a model for a way of thinking. Art can do it, and I’m going to have a damn good go. I want to occupy the territory, but the territory is an idea and a way of thinking as much as a context that generates objects.[1]'"

Friday, March 20, 2009

Don’t forget the bonobos, Dennett!

Jesus Murphy this is the medicalization of illness in the peach shirt of philosophy.

Jared Schickling

Correspondence between myself and Jared Schickling this week worked over a fifteen minute talk by Daniel C. Dennett on TED, among other things.

The conversation began with me sending him these links and comment:
Something's wrong with his picture, though it seems relevant to Germ.

Also, here’s some salt with that pepper. Or maybe it’s garlic salt…I’m not sure.

Jared: "Memetics is morally neutral." Yeah ok…Sorry don't mean to bombard you. But I'm watching and increasingly tired…reducing the realm of thought to biological mechanisms does more harm than good, it isn't particularly useful at getting at the complexity of the thing. The logic of the analogy is wonderfully conveniently workable. But the shape of an idea once it's involved itself in a brain is unpredictably irrational at the level of detail in a way observable bacteria isn't. Jesus Murphy this is the medicalization of illness in the peach shirt of philosophy.

ME: You're nailing it. What he's saying about "germ" is kind of the very basic premise from which I'm writing the novel. However, beyond the premise, beyond the useful fiction and his allusions to a kind of recursive symmetry across scale [recursive typology?][the fluke parasite in the ant’s brain being analogous to a meme in the human mind], all kinds of other stuff is going on that pops up in the writing…Dennett appears to be a major domo reductionist. He can't seem to get his head around the idea that though mind, matter, and energy are aspects/dimensions/scales of the same thing, they are not the same thing themselves. Dennett/Dawkins have the problem of being rational secular humanists, which means they each operate brilliantly from false premises. Luckily, this doesn't prevent them from falsifying others' premises. Neither seems capable of saying the productions of their rational minds—their philosophies—are useful fictions. They have complete faith in themselves, that is to say their philosophy. They seem quite Romantic about their rational anti-Romanticism. They seem the protagonists of their own anti-stories, the rational heroes who destroy narrative with grammar. Very similar to Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost...ego run amok...passing judgment on God. They fail to perceive that the most important thing is the premise itself. Humans produce premises. Dennett/Dawkins are trying to do away with that...They are not tinkering with the Mechanism of Premise, but assuming premises about imagined mechanisms...prejudiced against premises... That seems wildly inadequate to me, using philosophy to justify one's own perceived superiority, the validity of your false premise over other false premises. Premises are always false, yet humans incessantly produce them. In this sense/aspect/dimension/scale, false premises are therefore true premises. The odor of urine and urine itself are two different things that signify the same thing. The assumption that the smell of urine and urine itself are the same thing is a false premise that is nonetheless useful and true within certain parameters of action. Useful fictions and delusion are necessary to the human experience. Without them, there is no "human" experience… That said, looking at Dennett-Dawkins from the imagined self-perception of the human superorganism [if memes are viruses and alive how else can one contextualize their environment or ecosystem or milieu than to say they exist within the human superorganism as seams or fascia or membranes of Its mind-being?], I'd say they're doing their jobs as "mental" enzymes and/or psychic catalysts within the human membrane [member brain? meme brain?]. They're pimples not on God's ass, or chancres upon Its divine genitalia, but blemishes upon Its imagined forehead, the protrusive pus-erupting kind that make other angels look away, re-membering their own traumatic follies with such cysts and boils…Just my opinion from out here in the cheap seats... And yes, I love popping zits. The bigger more subaceous the cyst the better. Hooray!

Jared: I also think this guy goes astray at certain basic points. e.g. the idea that human genetic interests can be subordinated to "other interests." Yes they can, yes they are; no they can't, no they aren't. He doesn't get hung up on the prospect, which sounds convenient, leading to an idea that must feel good, "humans are the only species that do this." Were he to get hung up, at least caught up, it might lead to deeper suspicions of deeper affinities with non-human species, which might find relational undifferentiation that is human and non. Or not.

ME: Absolutely. Some of my favorite writers are bonobos [see more, and comments below these].

Jared: Here's an excerpt [of a] Dennett quote from a Michael Pollan article titled “An Animal’s Place”. I think Dennett's comment here is very stupid for such a learned man: "As humans contemplating the pain and suffering of animals, we do need to guard against projecting on to them what the same experience would feel like to us. Watching a steer force-marched up the ramp to the kill-floor door, as I have done, I need to remind myself that this is not Sean Penn in "Dead Man Walking," that in a bovine brain the concept of nonexistence is blissfully absent. 'If we fail to find suffering in the animal lives we can see,' Dennett writes in "Kinds of Minds," 'we can rest assured there is no invisible suffering somewhere in their brains. If we find suffering, we will recognize it without difficulty.'"

ME: First of all, as a point of fact, many bovine species have evolved the ability to hide suffering/illness as a defense mechanism in the wild. You don’t need predators knowing you’re not feeling well. This is fairly common knowledge among Dennett’s crowd, so why would he so willfully ignore it when advancing his ideas, or viral memes, germs we must defend ourselves against?

Jared: The whole thing shows its colors. He talks of infectious ideas—certain ideas are "to die for," but all ideas are infections. That's the scheme. This raises a problem when he begins to talk about using ideas responsibly; what real I is actually capable of using ideas responsibly? It's not itself, it's an idea of itself that is something ("why is there something rather than nothing"). Allowing the "benign variance of our ideas to continue to spread" would be a utopian myth without admitting the act of thinking is a religious act in the first place—If ideas are infections, they must compete like other viral things.

ME: Aside from the messenger, I'm very intrigued by the idea of memes as viruses because looking at them that way forms a seam between mind and matter. They are recursive types situated in different dimensions. To complete the picture, however, an energy aspect might be imagined. It's not just two things, it's three. Once that's grasped, we might imagine a fourth necessary aspect or dimension. To catch up to string theory, we'd have to find a total of eleven. Dennett's dealing with two thinking that's all there is. I'm trying to incorporate three, intuiting that's not all there is. Dennett seems to ignore Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle as he doesn't see himself changing the equation at all. Perhaps the perceiver might somehow fit in as "energy" somehow. Maybe the intention of the perceiver isn't so much mind as energy. I don't know. I do think, however, that it's possible that memes/ideas/intentions compete on the personal level, but cooperate on the level of the superorganism. All ideas are necessary to It. My will is a dimension of The Human Will, my perception is an aspect of The Human Perception, my body is a scale of The Human Body...I am a microcosm of human civilization...but I am different from It in terms of scale/dimension/intention/energy etc. & et al. So will/energy/intention seem to be necessary for any paradigm fictively imagined to be useful on a personal level for the "creative person" trying to adequately imagine The Human Being, which is but one small thing in an effectively infinite multiverse…I know I don't know what I'm talking about, and the more I speak the more certain this uncertainty becomes. Dennett & Dawkins might put that in their pipe and smoke it...if they "Smoke."


Remarks about about "Apes that Write:"

Jared: Bonobo: I remember a while back reading in a class about chimps and language acquisition. It involved defining human language in order to talk about similarities/differences across species. The conclusion I came to, and I can't remember if it was Kanzi or Koko (I believe Koko was a "common" chimp) who convinced me of this, that chimps can acquire language skills that humans develop by age 5. That's as far as it seemed to go in the papers and videos I was looking at. My question then was why is this the case, that this was a more useful question than simply whether or not chimps can acquire a defined human language. What language faculties do these chimps already possess, how is it expressed in the land of chimps, and why won't these chimps go on learning more. I think this comes to bear somehow on her basic point in accounting for differences between human and chimp behavior, that it's cultural and not biological. I think she's on to something, that the learning environment accounts for chimp cultural development, not genetic makeups. But there seems to be biological differences preventing chimps from becoming fully-fledged humans. This would seem obvious; except that Rumbaugh suggests through continued exposure to humans there's no reason to assume chimps couldn't develop similarly human abilities. They're almost genetically indistinguishable and share many of the same desires—both are intrigued by the capacity to make musical sounds, both are driven to communicate, both are curious about what they don't understand (though there might be some devolution here in the course of turning human), etc., but she talks about bonobo sexuality—a free, permissive, communicative tool—against human sexuality, categorized into a discreet area of experience, removed from public view, often variously taboo. I'd account for this by suggesting humans attach emotions and traumas and more to sexual acts in ways bonobos don't. Neuromechanisms must structure this…I wonder how similar human and chimp brains are or aren't.

Me: Very interesting. I couldn't help feel, however, that the bonobo who hadn't been outside for days and was looking longingly out into the forest, was being dumbed down, tortured in effect, for the purpose of these studies. Interesting they didn’t tell us why she hadn’t been outside for days. The struggle of the researcher to put what they're observing into their own terms...The inventors and teachers of grammar...liberal colonist’s not shrugging off their “white man’s burden”…presuming the innate inferiority of the enslaved…certitude run amok...spinning Heisenberg in his grave…I actually saw and see the whole thing as tragic and pathetic. I am not so curious about these things that it snuffs out my empathy for a captured ape longing for freedom. Does the good we derive from this communication justify the evil that's been done, that is being done to these poor beings? …Which leads to food consumption, which puts me on a moral level with Hitler and Stalin. I occasionally drool for a Big Mac and fantasize torturing "evil" folk in the name of the "truth." That's part of the American/Western delusion. Is it cultural or genetic, or both, this phantastic ideology of violence/oppression/dominion/zionism? Perhaps that's a recursive delusion necessary to all civilizations [human organs within the human superorganism?]…It occurs to me the role of the postmodern hero [or anti-hero] might be to rebel against the superorganism, which necessarily oppresses individuals [mere cells], exercising its dominion over them, in its desire to reach the promised land of self-satisfaction, that Zion of self-actualization. Less "society" [which is always virtual and public] seams more sociability [which is always actual and private]. I've met very few individual beings I've despised and very few groups of beings I didn't despise. I'm digressing, but the point I'm trying to make is that the "modern" "human being" is living in a box. Most of the "modern human being's" experiences are mediated by technology, which is a mediation itself from a media personality that [not who] reads what his producers have imagined themselves to have interpreted. The "modern human" "hero's journey" may lie in stepping down from her perch and out of her box to participate, cooperate and empathize with all the beings composing her present milieu. This may also mean the heroic human cell might choose to go malignant or viral in terms of not only defending itself against its national or tribal superorgan and that superorgan’s superorganism's internalizing/consuming necessities, to which a thus contextualized individual being might respond by seeking out its own justification via some ideology espousing radical individualism? Of course, "chosen people" never operate in a vacuum, so the game goes on...I naturally empathize with the egg, not the wall it’s whipped at. Most people just see a mess...I feel a bonobo longing for home…These scientists and their studies, as well-intentioned and empathetic and even necessary in light of habitat destruction as they may be, might never reveal anything innate about those they’re manipulating any more than physicists have ever pinned down an ultimate particle of matter. Whether the subjects they observe seem animate or inanimate beings will not matter in the objective sense. These scientists have perhaps not yet come to grips with the essence of their own objectivity, their being as objects. Nothing of true value can emerge from their false premises [the object's essence—neither the observer's nor the observed's] beyond the random and unintended effects of their actions...So that's why my favorite writer's a bonobo...a great ape longing for freedom, bound by inferiors who think otherwise, in a room not a forest breathing, hoping change will bring him home. If I were Jesus, I'd say forgive them Lord for they know not what they do. But I'm not Jesus and I don't care if they're forgiven or not. I just want them to stop studying these fine beings in this stupid way. Love them more. Go all the way. Shatter the tabboos and enter new planes of reality. Find a new heroic face to wear. Become more human by becoming more of an Earthling. Fuck everything, literally. And get married to whatever you want…And, I know, this contradicts my earlier idea about rebelling against the superorganism and harkens back more to my Lutheran upbringing: Love thy enemy. If Nature/nature’s your enemy, learn to love It/it…cause you can never leave It. This might be one of those times when insisting on non-insistence is insisting too much. But I won’t insist upon it. Aside from all that, Rumbaugh’s presentation was a rather fascinating and charming little presentation wasn't it? Yes, the music and narrative of some of the clips was annoying, and it’s tone exemplifies my criticism, I did enjoy it very much. It stirred my compassion.


This is in regards to Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on Genius at TED:

Jared: Just watched the Gilbert talk on genius. I more or less don't take issue with what she's suggesting though I think how she talks about it is troublesome and might work against itself. It's a mistake to draw clear boundaries between pantheons and human experience. The god or spirit or Muse that is outside material and over and above is a trick. The classical notion of genius, which persists idiosyncratically and persecuted up to the present (Melville talked in these terms, as does Dan Beachy-Quick) is that it's a shared thing. It's beyond the human capacity to confine it, to own it completely, which Gilbert suggests, but contrary to her schema it's a shared human event, necessarily entailing failure at completely embodying it. Genius exhausts "the" genius's abilities. Melville read Shakespeare's work and called it "genius," while noting in a letter to Hawthorne that the most incredible thing is what the work never said, perhaps what the artist couldn't say, all that this genius took to the grave. Genius, then, as it finds shape through individuals and their work, should be understood in terms of the work it leaves to be done as much as it should be understood as the work that is actually done. Genius, when we find it, makes us accutely aware of what hasn't been accomplished. Genius reveals failure! Shortcomings! You might say it's inspirational, that it inspires, remaining ever a shared, visionary potential. The source of this for Gilbert are demons in the wall spreading "fairy juice" over the work, who either graces the worker with its presence or not. It might be much simpler (though not really), the force shaped in the constellation of texts and voices and faces and rivers that we encounter and will shape our capacity for thinking about them, this material of genius everywhere abundant.

ME: Well said. I think you took her a bit literally, though. I viewed her as espousing useful fictions, recognizing them as such, and lightening up. Genius is not a burden. For people in touch with genius as you so ably describe it, I would imagine that's an inspirational thing to hear, because I’ve read and heard elsewhere that dealing with genius can be exhausting. The river must be heard. The river is the genius. It erodes, fascinates, reveals, drowns, floods, nurtures,'s wild and natural. We can dam[n] it for a little while, but eventually such damnations are always futile. Genius is the mind evolving, which is to say expanding consciousness in time. Where I thought she dragged was saying how the writer shows up to work every day and the genius is fickle. I didn't buy that. I’ve heard some "pros" say that they’ve learned how to contact and communicate with the genius on a fairly regular basis. Tiger Woods' drives while warming up on the driving range are all better than my best drive ever. That's because he's become a pro at communing his matter-energy with the golf genius, which is an aspect or dimension of the genius-at-large that all genius taps into, that river of Mind in the mind-matter-energy exemplasy. What do I know beyond my own processes? The universe is vast, but when I think of it, I fail to know It. Also, Elizabeth, should you read this, I think you're gorgeous...

Friday, March 13, 2009


I’ll be reading something from Smoke or a novel-in-progress somewhere at the Third Annual Buffalo Small Press Book Fair between noon and 6 p.m. Saturday, March 21, 2009 at Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, 453 Porter Avenue, Buffalo, NY. It’s free and open to the public. For more info:

My Smoke is not the first Smoke. Just found out Turgenev beat me to it. So far, there’s the obvious comparisons… There’s also the film starring Kevin Spacey, of which Paul Auster wrote the screenplay, which I haven’t seen. That has nothing to do with my novel…though Turgenev seems to have stolen a thing or two. Russian bastard. Should we ever meet …

I’m purchasing Joshua Cohen’s, A Heaven of Others, with my next paycheck. Consider this from the New Haven Review: “A Heaven of Others, Joshua Cohen’s second novel and fourth book of fiction, is a horrifying, terrifying, and instructive account of the wrong heaven in another’s shoes. Real shoes, that is, left forever in a real river of honey following abduction by eagles and a missed tête-à-tête with “the man named Mohammed”—the only one, it turns out, who might be able to bail our narrator, Jonathan Schwarzstein, of 37 Tchernichovsky Street, Jerusalem, out of a surreal and macabre but theologically accurate wasteland of a Muslim afterlife, and restore him to the heaven of his faith or choice. Though he is only ten when a Muslim boy his age explodes him on the street outside of a shoe store in latter-day Israel, by the time we hear him speak, from heaven, he is no longer a child but a child of eternity, “maturing to infinity,” and beyond and beyond, amen…” Good God! See the publisher’s site

It seems someone else named Charles Richardson had a way with people, too. See: “There is no evidence to support later suggestions that Richardson whipped Chinese while horseback riding in China, though according to a local English-language newspaper Supplement on the Incident, he had been heard to say just prior to the incident, "I know how to deal with these people" at Namamugi Incident. Sometimes, history’s hilarious!

From Sam Hamill’s In Her Company: Denise Levertov, at Jacket: “We shared some “affinities of content,” to borrow the title of her 1991 essay on poetry of the Pacific Northwest, as well as convictions about the role of the “engaged” artist. And we both felt passionately about the necessity of serving poetry[1] — in my case including work as editor-printer as well as poet-translator-essayist. As “engaged poets,” we shared a common struggle to resist bending one’s art to the purpose of mere propagandizing while acknowledging one’s politics within the living arts of poetry.”

An interesting piece on David Foster Wallace at Rain Taxi: “One thing that Wallace did incredibly well was to co-opt metafiction’s recursive involuted style and redeploy it outward in the service of the reader. He likened metafiction to a literary Armageddon (“art’s reflection on itself is terminal”) and called it a “permanent migraine”: you’re writing a novel about a novelist who sits down to write a novel about a novelist writing a novel about a novelist who paralyzingly suspects that s/he’s nothing but a character in some novelist’s novel, and so on—sigh—you get the idea. Wallace called this kind of writing cleveritis, and he saw it as toxically solipsistic because its terminal point is the writer.”

An interesting interview with Ted Pelton, novelist and publisher of Starcherone, at Experimental Fiction Poetry: “I was very angry when I wrote that piece, in 1991, and I think the excitement of the form reflects that anger, that bitterness that after all this time, we are still putting stock in war to solve problems. What could be stupider? Really, what? Who can have so much certainty about themselves and their truths as to kill other people, simply for control of resources? And the first Gulf War was the one that changed how we look at wars today, sans reporters on the ground, showing us what’s really going on. Gulf War 1 was about information control, as much as it was about anything – and now we are very far from even remembering to be critical of what we are told is happening in combat areas. In essence, Dubya and his administration gave us a gift in being so stupid and incompetent in how he managed the wars; his father had figured out how to do brutal, illegal, moneymaking things very quietly. Sorry, I realize I’m getting off on a political tangent – but it remains a political story for me. I am a pacifist, and it feels like this position has lost years of progress. Now, even Obama feels it’s OK to launch missile strikes into countries we are not at war with, and kill people we feel are guilty of crimes without charging them or having to produce evidence. And that leaves out the children and neighbors of the bad people, who also die, because missiles are a little less precise than lethal injection. It’s a crime to be in certain neighborhoods, evidently, and the crime is punishable by mass, summary executions, which are sometimes administered mistakenly. Oops! … I am angry about similar things in Malcolm & Jack, which examines the 1940s and the roots of American Empire by looking at drop-outs from it. The arrogance of how we have come to look at the world; more specifically, how our narratives have come to be powerful, persuasive, and deadly.”

Bizarro scientist look to weaponize ball lightening.

New Blogs:

Experimental Fiction Poetry & Jazz

Mike Palacek’s New American Dream

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Kirkus Reviews, Fiction

Daily News:

Climate Feedback at

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Sunday, March 8, 2009


A Conversation with John Bloomberg-Rissman

River wants
To be heard.

John Bloomberg-Rissman, No Sounds of My Own Making

I don't know why I do what I do. If I did know, I probably wouldn't feel the need to do it. All I can say, and I say it with utmost certainty, is that I have felt this need since my earliest adolescence. I'm talking about writing, in particular, writing as a vehicle to tell stories, imaginary stories that have never taken place in what we call the real world. Surely it is an odd way to spend your life - sitting alone in a room with a pen in your hand, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, struggling to put words on pieces of paper in order to give birth to what does not exist - except in your head. Why on earth would anyone want to do such a thing? The only answer I have ever been able to come up with is: because you have to, because you have no choice.

Paul Auster, “I Want To Tell You A Story,” The Gaurdian


When actually writing, I'm in that world with the things that move me... Antidepressants and Xanax were designed to enable me to come and go from that world as I pleased, but the end result was a grey mishmash of nonsensical sensibility. Leaving these SSI inhibitors behind and self-medicating with mother earth put me to bed in her womb, which is exactly as Kerouac stated: An Indian thing…Sometimes it's so beautiful I'm glad I'm apparently human, among other things.

Me, I Just Made That Up While Actually Writing


This week John Bloomberg-Rissman responded to last week’s blog entry at FCF48. Zeitgeist Spam, which is permanently linked to at the bottom of this page, is an ongoing poetry project of John’s. I’m more of a fiction guy, but I think we have a lot in common. Here’s my response to his feedback and what transpired after [the added links are mine, some contributed by John, others may be seen as areas where I may have questioned him, and may still]:

Me: Would this be flarf? What I like about this piece is the way you seam together a wide range of sources, which you've read deeply, or thought deeply of, and yet ably gleaned from surfaces, snatches of this and that, then pooling them together into something that seems to occupy its own field of activity, its own mind grappling...and the point is, if there is a point, is yes it's bullshit, but what wonderful, pleasurable bullshit it can be. It seems to me a kind of schizo-sanity. Diversity glued together. I've heard of Tom Beckett, but now I'm going to look him up. We're having a conversation!? His virtual and real seem to jibe with my actual and real…The struggle seems to be distinguishing the two in one's mind, one's emergent awareness occupying the space between signifier and signified, operating somewhat like a synapse, I think.

John: The bit I sent you is from Flux, Clot & Froth (=FCF), which will have 100 “sections” that are in fact 1. It’s written in discrete bits but will be presented as one long rolling river ... Or at least as the foam on the surface of that river. …it’s no more bullshit than any other work of “culture” ...... The whole work is an assemblage of many many language-bits (hence the “schizo-”). I find it kinda funny how every time I escape myself, well, there I am waiting ... Which brings me to your virtual/real, actual/real, erlebnis/ereignis; don’t forget Husserl’s noesis/noema, or – better yet, because not a duality, Lacan’s imaginary/symbolic/real. …I’m really taken w/Irigaray’s translation of philosophy as “the wisdom of love” rather than as the “love of wisdom” [John, I relate similar ideas to Thich Nhat Han] …I’m not sure I fully buy your “The struggle seems to be distinguishing the two in one's mind, one's emergent awareness occupying the space between signifier and signified, operating somewhat like a synapse, I think”. I get what you’re saying; my only quibble is that it might be true that (Derrida, Lacan) “there’s no outside to language”, Heidegger’s “no exiting the house of language”, and at the same time it might be true that, and this is a bit of JBR “insight” (bullshit?), there may be no inside, either ... And perhaps Heidegger’s “house”, unlike his beloved hut, has no walls ...Which doesn’t mean we aren’t being lied to all the time, or that the external world doesn’t exist ... Or that politics is unnecessary, or ... It just means that, to go all “Buddhist” on you, maybe the struggle is “no-struggle”, or something, to quit wriggling on the hook, because there is no hook, and to just get on with it. It? The struggle you describe, of course, which (to stay “all Buddhist” another moment) I tend to think of as the struggle to “get” and to live up to the boddhisattva vow ... Which, in political terms, might mean some form of progressivism ... Tom B is well worth checking out. He’s a really really fine poet, and a really really good man. He interviewed me, by the way, in the latest Otoliths (no. 12), where a collaboration between Jared [Schickling] and me also appears…Chuck—The struggle we’re discussing ... That all takes place in as you note “the mind”. ..“When I was young, I laughed a lot at Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception. He opens it with these words: "At the outset of the study of perception, we find in language the notion of sensation..." Isn't this an exemplary introduction? A collection of examples in the same vein, so austere and meager, inspire the descriptions that follow. From his window the author sees some tree, always in bloom; he huddles over his desk; now and again a red blotch appears - it's a quote. What you can decipher in this book is a nice ethnology of city dwellers, who are hypertechnicalized, intellectualized, chained to their library chairs, and tragically stripped of any tangible experience. Lots of phenomenology and no sensation - everything via language...My book Les Cinq sends cries out at the empire of signs. (Michel Serres with Bruno Latour, Conversations on Science, Culture and Time, trans. Roxanne Lapidus (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995), pp. 131-2.)” … To quote Serres once again, “If a revolt is to come, it will have to come from the five senses!” …That’s from his Angels: A Modern Myth…Now, Merleau-Ponty’s not as desiccated as Serres makes him, and Serres isn’t as out of his head as he’d like one to think. But, in any case, let’s not forget the flesh ...

Me: "Let's not forget the flesh." But what is "flesh?" A membrane? What is a membrane? What occurs there? How? What is it? Does it operate like a synapse? Is "communication," stimulus-response, cognition Its essence? What about energy? How is that related to mind and matter? And what am "I" that produces/recycles/regurgitates this bullshit in what we call language? It seems one might try to detach from the escapement into escapeness...forming a triaxial esemplasy of mind-matter-energy [compare Barth's "coaxial esemplasy"]...Now I really don't know what I'm saying other than “it”—what “I” “am” “saying”—is a mish-mash of mind-matter-energy here now…[it seams an index, among other things—referring to a JBR statement after-the-fact, see further]...the escapeness of meaning that feels like a lazy river [I am upstream in the now going over this]. Perhaps I am not the one writing, perhaps I’m just along for the ride. Perhaps The Writing is somewhat distinct from me, or entwined with me, among other things. We’re all polluted with many things. As you say, “the river must be heard.”

John: What is flesh? Hell if I know. (According to the OED, no one really does. No one even really knows the etymology of “flesh” – which tells me it’s always been a mystery, “who feels it knows it”, but …)…Acid told me fast vibrations (of what I never grasped) appear immaterial, slow ones appear as “stuff”. Nevertheless, and somehow: flesh is the medium of thought. Most thought happens in and with the flesh, with what we think of as thought as the bringing to consciousness of what’s already been thought (That hurts, I’d better move my leg. I’m hungry. I gotta piss. She’s hot …). Most thought never comes to consciousness (beat, heart; breathe, lungs; twitch, muscles …). And as for the thought we normally call “reason”, well, that is utterly conditioned by our sensory apparatus, brain structure, etc. as well as by our cultures (which too are epiphenomena, so to speak, of our flesh. I mean, culture’s etymology: classical Latin cultura cultivation, tillage, etc etc.) It seemed to me that when you wrote “The struggle seems to be distinguishing the [actual vs. real/virtual—I’m saying reality is virtual and actuality is what exists beyond the virtual, of which faith—more later—plays a vital role] in one's mind, one's emergent awareness occupying the space between signifier and signified, operating somewhat like a synapse” you were disembodying us (your synapse being the space *between* axon and dendrite) or forgetting for a moment to conceive us as embodied. Which of course could be over reading. So I mentioned the flesh. …Acid also taught me, by the way, that language doesn’t appear til the vibrations are plenty slow, down to flesh-level:

Words are thick, opaque,
Not Amida’s sweet clear light …

That’s from something I wrote more than 35 years ago. I’m still “there.”…I don’t think communication is stimulus-response because I’m not a [someone] who needs the black-box behaviorist. Behaviorism, by the way, is a metaphor. Which has been “replaced” by the more “sophisticated” metaphors of cognitive science (computation, connectivism, neural nets, etc). Which of course are totally dependent on the metaphors of neuroscience for their “validity”, or appropriateness. Not that neuroscience isn’t science, as much as any science is science. If you ever have a couple of years in which to devour a book, I suggest Margaret Boden’s *Mind as Machine*, which is an absolutely wonderful 2 vol history of cognitive science. I’m about halfway thru v.1. It’s a treasure, a big room full of fascinating geniuses (definition of genius: anyone who blows my mind with their mind)…All we have are metaphors for who-knows-what, man. And hunger pangs. And pangs of compassion. …You also ask (rhetorically, I know, but I can’t resist): “And what am "I" that produces/recycles/regurgitates this bullshit in what we call language?”… I think I is what’s called an indexical. It doesn’t stand for anything. It just helps point to something (Unspoken? Outside language, tho language has no inside or outside?). Since we use the same pointer, we think we’re always pointing at the same “thing”. What is that “thing”? Pound called it a “patterned integrity.” Of what is it made? I dunno. Perhaps statistical “likelihoods” created by big-bang asymmetries??? …From a poem about 5 yrs old:

Is a tree the seed’s adventure?
Am I the adventure of the first moment of time?
Big Bang Boy
High stepping
Time’s arrow sticking out of his ass?

This is a great conversation. Bits have worked their way into FCF. I don’t see why my poem can’t contain a record of this. Especially because I’m a magpie, and you write so great. Shiny! (exclaimed as only a happy magpie could) …Oh, one other thing, which *I* think is funny. You mentioned Barth. I thought Karl, not John. Which gave that esemplasy thing a whole different twist. I learn (OED again) that esemplasy’s a word from Coleridge: the power, that is, of infusing into the various parts of a subject an ever-present unity. Imagining that coming from a theologian, as I did, got me onto a whole train of thought …At least I didn’t think Barthes!

Me: There's so much I could say, much of it agreeing with you, basically, just saying it in a slightly different way…Karl Barth. That is funny. About 20 years ago I absorbed The World Treasury of Modern Religous Thought, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan. It begins with Dostoevsky's The Grand Inquisitor and ends with Solzhenytzin's Beauty Will Save the World. Barth's Faith as Confession is included in the first section: "Faith is God's mystery breaking forth; faith is God's freedom and man's freedom in action." I read that as the self-declaring “Christ” is the first person pronoun faithfully reflexing/reverbing/feedback looping itself into a sentient biological entity [a sentient triaxial esemplasy of mind-matter-energy going through a self-conscious phase space trajectory in time, which may be an awareness in and of itself] that commonly mistakes its body—that membrane coordinating/indexing its six senses contained within the membrane—for its flesh. It occurs to me that "faith" could just as well be replaced with "language" in the context of our discussion, and that "freedom" could be replaced with "will," which I see as akin to energy in the Mind-Matter-Energy formulation [a triaxial esemplasy leading to multi-dimensional arabesques displaying recursive symmetries across scale during their phase space trajectories as “I” faithfully perceive them from here?]. What's important, in my opinion, is that faith/language is dynamic and freedom/will/energy is something we can only participate in and never control, like that river you speak of, it is that river to my way of reading, which further upstream in my [mostly] self-education, leads back to Gleick's Chaos and Capra's Tao of Physics and The Web of Life. I don't think of my synapse metaphor as dis-embodied any more than the electric signal between neurons [in the synapse] has escaped the neurological system, or has escaped my body, but rather in terms of spandrels, which is a cognate term between evolution and architecture, a branching off that's still attached, signifying an evolving complexity that produces arbitrary forms which seem to serve no purpose in the overall systemic structure of its native environment....analogous to the human mind being a byproduct of evolutionary forces that seam a “spandrel” which seems to be evolving the means of linking up with other “spandrels,” finding a way to make themselves functional within the overall life system, which somehow becomes dependent on spandrels seaming spandrels at a particular point in imagined time. I agree wholeheartedly that language and mind are of the flesh, and so is faith [despite what many folks mistakenly believe]. I'm not an Ist of any sort, meaning I'm not an atheist. I think the struggle is to overcome the babel...we always did feel the same we just saw it from different points of view...but we're not tangled up in blue, we're swimming in it. Eventually we'll all drown, but that's life…I'm just beginning to connect the dots in my head for this week's blog entry. I received your books yesterday. No Sounds of My Own Making. Now that looks like a text I'll derive some pleasure from. At first look it seems to be taking a bath in jouissance (as long as we're talking about Barth[e]s). It might be interesting to consider what you're doing here and what Barthe's is doing with Balzac in S/Z...the difference being he's using one source and commenting directly, you're using multiple/many sources and commenting [I presume] in the way context emerges within the text [see how I feel the message existing between the chemical stimulus and electric response without escaping the body in my synapse metaphor? In terms of scale, this is the Hotel California…we’ve checked in but we can never leave—once we do we’re not us in any recognizable form anymore, at least in my opinion]. Of course, I'm probably way off. I'm not a poet or particularly good at poetry criticism. I prefer making things up. All writers are liars, I am a writer. The less I know the more I have to write about.

John: For you to substitute “language” for Barth’s “faith” is almost kabbalistic. It also brings to mind Kukai’s theory of language, about which I’m reading in a book by Ryuichi Abe, The Weaving of Mantra. As summarized in an article on the web: “Kukai advanced a general theory of language based on his analysis of two forms of Buddhist ritual language: dharani and mantra. ... Kukai made mantra a special class of dharani which showed that every syllable of a dharani was a manifestation of the true nature of reality — in Buddhist terms that all sound is a manifestation of shunyata or emptiness of self-nature. Thus rather than being devoid of meaning, Kukai suggests that dharanis are in fact saturated with meaning — every syllable is symbolic on multiple levels. One of Kukai's distinctive contributions was to take this symbolic association even further by saying that there is no essential difference between the syllables of mantras and sacred texts, and those of ordinary language. If one understood the workings of mantra, then any sounds could be a representative of ultimate reality. This emphasis on sounds was one of the drivers for Kukai's championing of the phonetic writing system, the kana, which was adopted in Japan around the time of Kukai.”…The Stanford Ency of Philosophy also notes: “Ji, meaning “sign,” “word,” “letter,” or “character/graph,” is sound in its signifying character as naming or meaning something. As letter, it also provides a material base whereby the sign's distinction from other signs becomes retained and fixed.” …Derrida’s differance avant-le-lettre??...As for “will”, are you channeling Schopenhauer/Nietzsche? You write: “What's important here, in my opinion, is that faith/language is dynamic and freedom/will/energy is something we can only participate in and never control, ...” We certainly are on the same wavelength when it comes to seeing control as a consoling myth. Language certainly can’t be tamed. Energy is something we uh well sing along w/Crazy Fingers: “Gone are the days we stopped to decide where we should go, we just ride.” In Kukai’s world, of course, to distinguish between language and energy would be to reify two “versions” of the same thing…As the title of a Bruce Fink book has it: *The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance*. Not a bad place to be sandwiched ...I like your “I think the struggle is to overcome the babel...we always did feel the same we just saw it from different points of view...but we're not tangled up in blue, we're swimming in it. Eventually we'll all drown, but that's life.” I’m not sure I’d use the word “overcome”, tho, since we’ve just agreed that control is out of the question. Unless you mean overcome in the sense of roll with, be-there-now with, don’t shrink from, the babel ... Seems to me that remaining-present is the ONE way we have of actually “getting” that whether or not we always did feel the same, you felt what you felt and once I didn’t fight it it was cool ...I think that’s a definition of love, by the way. Being-present with someone, staying-present with them ... Relinquishing control. I think it’s also a definition of self-love ...

Me: And the only thing I can seam to that seems A-u-mmmm

Also see FCF49, where this conversation beats on, elsewhere …


Tom Beckett interviews John in Otoliths...

From Tom Beckett’s blog

The Virtual and the Real:

I've dealt with some pretty gritty stuff in the course of doing public health work. And I've had some frightening encounters over the course of the last 30-some years. I've even been threatened with bodily harm from time-to-time. Once, memorably, at gun point. I say all of this because I want to establish that I do exist in your so-called real world, but...

I think as a poet I exist on a dividing line between realities.

I think as a poet I exist like basic but underappreciated parts of speech. Let me explain, or at least hint at an explanation, by quoting my buddy William James:

"With, near, next, like, from, towards, against, because, for, through, my--these words designate types of conjunctive relations arranged in a roughly ascending order of intimacy and inclusiveness."

Conjunctive relations.

I am a fucking allegory of virtual intent and a walker through messes, too. I am scathed.



Next Week: Perhaps Tom Beckett, Kent Johnson and more as the conversation continues…or not. Stay tuned.