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.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know either John or Chuck, but these guys are fucking brilliant!